As the frenzy over Bounty-gate continues to rumble through every sports talk show nationwide, I am left to wonder why coaches have taken such a defeatist approach. When coaches offer to pay players to injure their opponents, they are sending the message to their team that they lack the talent needed to win. This is the exact message the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams put forward by awarding players financially for intentionally injuring opponents in order to see them carted off the field.
What ever happened to coaches teaching players to strike fear in their opponents? I am reminded of a great scene in Remember the Titans when the defensive coordinator motivates his team to give it all they have. He doesn’t tell his team to take cheap shots on their superior opponents so that they can score a victory on the second best, he tells his team to “Make them remember forever, the night they played the Titans.”
Yes, I know it's just a movie but it epitomizes what the spirit of competition should be all about. You put your best on the field to compete against their best. True competitors want to face the best, not take them out of the game so they can play the backups. Coaches that offer incentives to injure opponents need to stop and remember why they became involved with sports in the first place.
You Can't Handle the Truth
I was surprised to hear commentators tell their viewers that fans really don't want to know what goes on behind the scenes. One ESPN analyst said, "we like the sausage,but don't like to see the dirty side of how its made." Are we supposed to believe that it's not possible for football players to play fair? Are we expected to continue to tune in without asking any questions? Can the NFL fan base handle the truth?
Fans know that football is a violent sport. We know that it takes a certain mentality to play the game. We know that players go out on the field on Sunday and attempt to annihilate their opponents. This is why we watch the game. Fans also understand that their are major differences in philosophy between the player that wants to take the field, strike fear in his opponent, leaving him demoralized in defeat, and the player that wants to intentionally injure his opponent because he feels he has a better chance against the second string. The NFL fan base needs to send the message loud and clear that we do not approve of the victory by intentional injury approach.
Do we really want NFL coaches to take the Tonya Harding defeatist approach; If you can't beat them, injure them?
Do we really want NFL coaches to take the "sweep the leg" approach?
Bounty-gate has been compared to the New England Spygate scandal and also to steroids in baseball. I agree that any form of cheating takes away from the game. The steroid issue suggests that players felt their best wasn't good enough. Spygate suggests that the New England coaching staff lacked confidence to win without cheating. As far as cheating goes, those comparisons are legit, but going out of your way to intentionally injure another athlete in order to win takes cheating to another level, a level that must not be tolerated.
The NFL has taken a strong stance on illegal hits, leveling fines that far exceed the payouts offered in Bounty-gate so I do not feel that the money is the real problem here, but rather the philosophy being implemented. Players make millions of dollars. They can afford $50,000 for an illegal hit, they can afford to lead with their helmets, they can afford to take out players with high/low hits that have the potential to end careers, they can afford to cheat in order to win. The NFL has the responsibility to create a culture that frowns on these tactics.
Unfortunately there is only so much the NFL commissioner can do. The responsibility ultimately lands on the coaches and players. Hopefully exposing Bounty-gate will make those who participate in such activities stop and think about what they are doing. Maybe this wake up call will get everyone back to preaching about the true spirit of competition.