Scandals generall tend to provide the masses with an easy method of coalescing around simple agreements, especially in sports.
Spygate? The Pats cheated.
Nevin Shapiro? One shady dude the U should've known to steer clear of.
The Decision? LeBron's a jerk.
Donald Sterling? Q: What's worse than racist überasshole? A: Donald Sterling. Seriously, the guy is the worst person on Earth.
But this bounty scandal is different (and I will do everything in my power to not call it bountygate, save for the permalink. I ain't that proud). There isn't a clear cut response. There isn't much consensus. And the reason's simple:
We have yet to balance our desire for physical entertainment with
the irrational craving of violence and the consequences it begets.
Since it's inception, football has been a ferociously violent and dangerous game. Early in the 20th century, it fell to Teddy Roosevelt to save the sport from the growing cacophony of critics who, rightly so, weren't interested in promoting a sport in which people were being killed. Often. The modern question is not whether football (as well as boxing, hockey, soccer, and other highly physical sports) ruins people's bodies and brains.
It's whether or not we're ok with that, and if we are, what is owed to those employees of the businesses involved who sacrifice their livelihoods for our entertainment.
Joe Posnanski is a terrific writer. His blog is arguably the best crap-tech blog in the history of blogs. He doesn't need design to sell his content. He's that good. But his piece yesterday on the bounty scandal was as misconceived as any piece could be on the topic.
By the end of it, he asks:
Is our love of pro football -- the spectacle, the violence, the thrills and sheer ferocity of it all -- so insatiable that nothing will ever shock or disgust us again?
If anything, the last decade has shown that the prevailing forces are moving in the completely opposite direction. This is the kind of question that is about 110 years late and I expect was paraphrased in some form before Roosevelt amended the rule structure and saved the game.
Roger Goodell has instituted a new NFL that doesn't just promote the game to glide on its ascendancy to the apex of the mountain of American sport (I call it Mt. Amerisport). His NFL maintains supremacy on that mountain (Mt. Amerisport) while deconstructing the rules to find ways to keep the thrills of the game intact while minimizing the most egregious examples of where football is just slightly below beheadings on the violent entertainment slider.
If y'all follow me on Twitter, you know I love my boy Andrew Sharp. His piece today on this issue is a good example why. There are too many sections I could refer to that mimic my own reactions to the reactions to the news, news that when detailed by Peter King comes off as overtly obscene. BUT THAT'S FOOTBALL.
For every scribe who is using their platform to irately condemn Gregg Williams and everyone else involved, I would ask why you were so oddly silent after the NFC Championship when the Giants' Devin Thomas told everybody that the team's gameplan was to deliberately injure the 49ers Kyle Williams:
Thomas said the game plan for Kyle Williams, who was forced into the job in the absence of regular kick returner Ted Ginn, was simple: Make sure to hit him whenever possible.
"He’s had a lot of concussions. We were just like, ‘We gotta put a hit on that guy,’ " Thomas said. "(Tyler) Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up."
And it's not just the lip service some are trying to pay to this story that heats me up. It's that violent fair play is somehow less violent than violent unfair play.
I'd love for someone to try to tell me that this isn't one player trying to injure another. And yet I'm ok with that.
The most meaningful part of this whole scandal is that we're being forced to reexamine whether we are collectively.
I don't condone coaches or players paying to have someone deliberately taken out. That kind of incentive is silly, since it's an incorporated part of the game anyway. However, if it promotes dirty play that is both outside of the rules and the spirit of those rules, then I find it disgusting. It's a thin line.
When I see examples of dirty play (ahem, Nick Fairley v. Georgia), it does anger me. I recognize that there is strategic value to taking out a player from an opposing offense. Moreover, I'm ok with it within the confines of the rules. I think that's the scales of ethics we're having to weigh with this issue.
I wish this was the last time I spent any effort addressing this. It's a bit asinine to me to act as if violence in football is somehow incorrigible and needs to be purged. And the malonym "bounty" certainly hasn't helped. But the idea that suspensions or fines levied to anyone involved is somehow going to cleanse the sport of football to the point that defenders aren't looking to take out offensive players when they have the chance is crazy. Worse, it's harmful.
I hope we can at least realize that before we accede to the hyperbole.
Football deserves as much.