We take a break from out scheduled sporting season to return to the previous one (of any significance, anyway). There is a scandal not merely brewing but full-blown in the world of football.
It turns out that one of my favorite teams, the New Orleans Saints, has been guilty of unsportmanlike conduct in the extreme. (The Saints are my most favorite team behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.) The Saints had a system of financial rewards for injuring players on other teams, especially players who were important to those teams' successes. Michael Crabtree of the 49ers, for example, had a bounty on his head -- or more accurately, on his outside anterior cruciate ligament. Under the right circumstances, ACL injuries will not only put a player out for the season but can be career-ending. Frank Gore and Kyle Williams were to be hit in the head; especially troubling in Williams' case because he had already suffered a concussion. Concussions -- especially repeated ones -- can not only end a career but seriously damage a player's post-football life.
The Commissioner has responded by suspending players for varying amount of games, suspending the defensive coordinator indefinitely, and forcing Sean Peyton, the Saints' head coach to sit out all of next season. This is absolutely outrageous.
It is outrageous because these penalties go nowhere near far enough.
If it is true -- and the evidence is pretty solid that it is -- Peyton and his defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, as well as any coaching or head office staff who knew about or condoned this horror should be banned from football for life.* Any player shown to have participated should be suspended for all of next season. I would not have a problem if the entire team was forced to forfeit all of next year.
Football is a violent game. Those of us who love the sport defend this by saying that a certain amount of injury is only natural when you have very strong, often very large men running into each other. There are always attempts -- properly so -- to make football safer, both in terms of rule changes and advances in equipment.
Purposefully causing injury does far more harm to the integrity of football than that little spying scandal of Bill Belechick a couple of years ago. It does more harm than steroids -- although steroids do more to harm individual players as a whole (at least those not targeted by the Saints' defensive line). It does the most harm to the perceived integrity of the sport than anything I can think short of gambling and fixing games, and even then it might be a close call.
I love football, and would hate to see it destroyed over this. But I cannot support a sport that does not put the safety of its players as foremost in its cost-benefit calculus.
*Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is not only venal but stupid: all of this came to light because he allowed a filmmaker access to a team meeting prior to the playoff game against San Francisco.