Thuggery taints football

Recent bounty scandal shows sport can’t shake link with violence

Pro football is plagued by contradictions right now.

The recent New Orleans Saints bounty scandal shows that the sport really isn’t that different from boxing.

On March 2, the NFL announced that since 2009 — the year New Orleans won its first-ever Super Bowl — the Saints have operated a bounty system that paid players to injure opponents.

Five days later, former Canadian Football League lineman Adriano Belli said bounties are also common in Canadian football.

The revelation comes at a pivotal moment for the NFL, which is facing concussion lawsuits from former players and a struggling against a growing body of research linking brain diseases to violent head hits.

The NFL has responded by changing the rules of the game to make it safer by expanding the definition of an illegal hit. But the Saints’ bounty system reaffirms the fundamental connection between violence and football.

In the context of football, the idea of trying to hurt another person makes sense because some players aren’t replaceable. One of the most memorable moments of the Saints’ 2009 playoff run happened when New Orleans defensive end Bobby McCray hit Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner — the Cardinals didn’t score any points for the rest of the game.

McCray’s hit wasn’t illegal, but even if it was, no penalty or ejection could offset the advantage that the Saints gained from the hit on Warner.

It’s undeniable that targeted violence produces results in football.

There will always be teams that break the rules. It’s the classic if-you-aren’t-cheating-then-you-aren’t-trying mentality.

So where does football go from here? Violence is its main appeal, but gruesome injuries are its flaw.

Even though it’s one of the most important parts of North American culture, the dangers and risks of football break too many taboos. If football doesn’t make significant changes, it’s facing a slow death at the hands of lawsuits and brain research.

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