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A Slightly Different Take On The Bountygate Sanctions

Yesterday, as I pored over the coverage of the punishment handed down to the Saints by the NFL in regard to BountyFest, from the other computer in the back of the house my wife read aloud snippets of Dave Zirin's reaction to it all, and then sent me a link to it, knowing I'd want to read the whole thing myself, and perhaps even share it with CSC.

Boy, was she right.

Related: Full NFL Statement Regarding Bountygate Punishments

Zirin, who writes about sports and politics for both The Nation and his own site (The Edge of Sports), like many Saints fans, is outraged, but he has an interesting take on it as well as the overall culture/implicit approval/cover-up of violence present in the league that I think would be interestingly explored here. He makes some points that I have read in various posts and comments around CSC, but adds some new ones and ties it all together in a unique way that I must say I agree with.

Fair warning: he is a political writer, and he makes some political references in his sports writing. Not so much in this piece, but it does appear on The Nation's web site, and his other work is rife with it. Please note that In no way do I wish to explode a political discussion here on CSC, so if you do read this piece, as well as his column from right after the original announcement of this scandal from early March, please do not respond to or flame on the political points (from The Nation or his other work) in the comment section. Keep your commentary focused on the football and violence aspects. If you don't think you'll be able to resist, then please just move along and do not participate in the discussion. Hans P. from Louisville is thanking you in advance for your assistance.

OK, if you're ready, take a deep breath and join me across the jump.

Related: Sean Payton 'Stunned' by 1-year Suspension

As I wrote above, he's outraged. Well it's actually more than outrage (although I'd question whether or not he was actually the creator this new terminology):

I am so angered by the insane, over-the-top suspensions of Saints football coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, and pretty much everyone in New Orleans except for the cast of Treme, that I had to create a new word. I'm shock-raged.

He then questions the severity of and the true rationale for the punishments:

By taking out the entire Saints brain trust, like he's Michael Corleone at the end of the Godfather, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is sending one hell of a loud message. But cacophony is not the same as clarity. Most agree the Saints should have met with some punishment for having a "bounty system" against opposing players, but suspending the head coach for an entire season? Suspending the General Manager for eight games? Suspending former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely? Why?

Next, he attempts to deconstruct Goodell's stated reasoning, and first takes on the idea of protecting the players and ending the culture of violence represented by the bounty system...

If Goodell cared about player safety, he wouldn't be pushing for an 18 game season. He wouldn't have spent last off-season fighting the NFL Players Association on expanding health benefits or limiting "voluntary" off-season workouts. He wouldn't be promoting Thursday-night games, which will accelerate injuries by giving players a shorter week to heal.

That's followed by a look at the "they lied and misrepresented the facts to the NFL" angle...

But even if they did "mislead" and "misrepresent" on bounties, think about the ways that Goodell has "misled" and misrepresented" the public about the true effects of violence in his sport. This is a league with a 100% injury rate, a concussion epidemic, and a history of sending concussed players into games. It's why they're being sued by a large collection of former star players, including Jim McMahon, Mark Duper, and Hall-of-Famers Carl Eller, John Hannah, and Chuck Bednarik.

He's neither absolving the Saints of blame, nor is he condoning the violence itself, and check out the bolded part at the end:

I am not saying that the Saints shouldn't have been punished. There should be zero tolerance for any kind of a locker room culture that abides a bounty system, but every NFL defense aims to "take out" the opposing team's star player. They'll say, and the Saints players have said, that the goal is always to do it "within the rules of the game". I don't doubt this. The problem is that the overwhelming number of crippling injuries all take place within the "rules of the game." Violence is football and football is violence. That's not a critique or value judgment. Just a fact.

So, Dave, what is Goodell really doing with all this?

Goodell doesn't work for the players. He works for the owners. No player on earth should believe he has their interests at heart. It's just not his job. His job is selling the idea that the NFL, because of the padding, because of his wise rule changes, because of his system of deterrence, is violence without consequence...He wants to send a message to all the skittish parents reading about concussions, to all the people complaining about a possible 18 game season, and to the dozens of former players suing the league, that the league's violence can be controlled and regulated under his watchful eye.

And what do you think about that?

What an absolute sham. The sport is built on violence. If that's too much for people to handle then they can take their money elsewhere. If that makes a promising young player quit for other pursuits, so be it. But at least they'd be making an informed decision and not judging the game on fraudulent grounds.

He closes with a call-to-arms of sorts...

If there's a silver lining in all of this, hopefully we can finally dispense with the fiction that the NFL has a special place in its heart for the city of New Orleans. We can stop saying that after Katrina, the NFL is the best friend the city has. Instead, expect an ailing Saints team to cost the still rebuilding city millions. This league is not your friend, Saints fans. I hope the season-ticket holders organize themselves like the former players and take the NFL to court. Roger Goodell thinks he lives above the law. But he shouldn't be allowed to do this to the Saints, their fans, and the city of New Orleans, without legal consequence. Maybe Goodell will then be shock-raged for a change.

* * *

I'm not sure what legal ground folks would have to sue the NFL, but I'm willing to listen to ideas. Is there a lawyer in the house? Or at least somebody who plays one on TV?

What do you think of Zirin's perspective?