I know I’m a couple years late to the party and BountyGate is no longer a hot topic, but I wanted to climb up on my soap box for a minute. This is an argument I get into every time a Saints-hater tries to take away from the Saints 2009 Super Bowl championship. You had to have heard it by now: "Yeah, well, the Saints cheated to win," or even worse: "They should have their Super Bowl title stripped."
Let me preface by saying that I recognize the New Orleans in the Bountygate scandal committed wrongdoings. I am not denying that at all. I understand that realistically many other teams probably engaged (or continue to engage) in similar pay-for-performance systems amongst its players, but that is no excuse or defense for the Saints actions. My stance here is simple – Of all of the "-Gates" in recent NFL history (Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate), Bountygate should be the least offensive to the general public.
Now understand that this is just my opinion. I’m not saying I’m absolutely correct or unbiased. I do, however, try to leave my fandom at the door in the argument and honestly, sincerely believe I would have this same position regardless of which team I cheer for.
All three instances (Spygate, Bountygate, and Deflategate) contained alleged instances of wrongdoing. For purposes of this argument, I am assuming the basic allegations in each controversy to be valid. (I am not going into too much detail of the facts in each case. Feel free to look them up online if you are not familiar with them.) All three share one thing in common: the team in question violated the rules of the NFL. But does that make them all equal?
Let’s look outside the NFL. Are all laws equal? Is murder not a worse crime than loitering? Obviously we recognize differing levels of severity in the law.
Well cheating is cheating. Is killing someone with a gun different than killing someone with a knife?
No. But the law in this hypothetical – the law against murder – is the same law in both cases. The New England Patriots in Spygate, the New Orleans Saints in Bountygate, and the Patriots in Deflategate all were accused of different wrongdoings.
But aren’t we splitting hairs here? The difference isn’t as big as murder to loitering. It’s more like asking which is worse between speeding or running a stop sign, or between assault or kidnapping.
The law recognizes two distinct types of laws/regulations: malum in se and malum prohibitum. A malum in se law is a law governing a universally accepted moral wrong – like murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, burglary, etc. A malum prohibitum law is a law governing an act that is only wrong because the governing body has made it so – like laws on jaywalking, loitering, or fishing without a license.
The NFL regulations prohibiting the actions of the New England Patriots in both Spygate and Deflategate were created to prevent an unfair competitive advantage; that is, to prevent cheating. The NFL regulations in play against the New Orleans Saints were to prevent two things: 1) unsafe working conditions, and 2) going around the salary cap with extra financial incentives.
But the Saints knew the rules. They knew the laws. They broke the laws. That’s cheating.
And that’s the crux of my position. Just because they broke a rule, does not mean they were cheating.
Marshawn Lynch was punished by the NFL for eating Skittles on the sideline of an NFL game. Beastmode had also been previously fined for failing to attend post-game conferences with reporters. In both situations, the Seattle Seahawks by way of Marshawn Lynch, broke the rules. They broke the NFL laws. Would anyone in their right mind consider Marshawn Lynch a "cheater" for those actions?
But they were still trying to get an unfair competitive advantage on other teams! That’s still cheating! Why would they break the rules if they weren’t trying to cheat?
This circles back to my, "Other teams do it too," position. Why do other teams do it? For friendly competition. Keeping running tallies of interceptions, tackles, sacks, etc. and paying out nominal amounts of money from a player pool is just to create friendly competition and bragging rights between players who otherwise have no chance to compete against each other in an NFL game. It’s akin to working in a company or environment where employees have competitions to sell the most items in a given period of time.
See! There’s extra financial compensation involved. That’s an unfair competitive advantage!
Are you going to say with a straight face that the New Orleans Saints players in the 2009 season played HARDER than other teams that might not have been implementing a pay-for-performance scheme? NFL players make on average $1.9 million dollars. Will an extra $500 make them perform better than players on another team? Are players capable of playing any harder than they already are? If you are a fan of another team, and you believe the players on your team could play any harder if they were given extra incentive, then you should consider changing teams. NFL players play all-out already. Players on your team aren’t holding back because they’re not getting an extra $10,000.
But what about player safety?! In Bountygate, the Saints players were allegedly trying to knock players out of the game!
Do you really think the players on another team hold back on a tackle? No. Again – the Saints players were not playing any harder than any other team with or without a bounty system in place.
If the Saints players, or any other player for that matter, makes a dirty tackle or illegal hit, there is in-game policing already in place. Referees can throw a flag and penalize the team. James Harrison is considered a "dirty" player for consistently making illegal tackles, but no one calls him a "cheater." Even at worst, it’s wrong to try to injure someone to the point their career might be in jeopardy, but you’re not cheating. You’re just a terrible person.
And lastly, if you really think the NFL cares that much about player safety…. Don’t make me laugh.
So those are my thoughts. I’ll step down off my soap box and allow you to tear me down in the comments.