There’s often a huge difference between the big story and the most important story.
The big story in the National Football League this week has been the much-anticipated release of quarterback Peyton Manning by the Indianapolis Colts. There’s a good reason it’s a big story: Manning is inarguably one of the greatest passers and field generals of all time – and for the first time since he was drafted No. 1 by the Colts in 1998, he’s on the open market.
On Wednesday, after Manning’s year of sidelines and surgeries, the Colts – 2-14 last year without him, and expected to draft his replacement in young, can’t-miss prospect Andrew Luck of Stanford – released him to avoid a scheduled $28 million bonus payment.
Yes, a big story. Football is America’s most popular spectator sport, the quarterback is the most important single position in any team sport – and, again, Peyton Manning is factually one of the best to ever suit up for the job.
But the more important NFL story this week is clearly the “bounty” scandal surrounding the New Orleans Saints’ franchise.
The league has confirmed that the Saints had a bounty system in recent years in which defensive players were actually paid bonuses under the table for intentionally injuring opposing players enough to get them off the field.
This is so wrong and so injurious to the game and the league that there is little danger of overstating the case.
First, even in a sport involving as much physicality and controlled violence as professional football, one would think that the intentional act of causing significant bodily harm – particularly if it involves acts outside the rules of the game – would constitute a crime.
Regardless, it is nothing less than a scandal that some athletes would target opposing players – not just to cause pain, which is part of football, but to inflict
actual injury, enough to render the other player incapable of plying his trade.
Worse yet, the coaches not only encouraged it, but paid bonuses for it. Gregg Williams, then-Saints defensive coordinator and now with the St. Louis Rams, oversaw the bounty operation with the knowledge of head coach Sean Payton, the league says.
“It was a terrible mistake. And we knew it was wrong while we were doing it,” Williams admits.
We hope the league office and the 32 team owners understand the gravity of this disgrace and the potential for further harm to the game if not dealt with in the harshest terms at their disposal. Besides everything else above, the league also needs to realize that some of the targeted players for injury are also what makes the league the most popular in the sporting world: the quarterbacks, such as the recently retired Brett Favre and Kurt Warner.
And, yes, Peyton Manning.
Players who participated in the illegal bounty scheme should be suspended multiple games; coaches too. Fact is, we’re not sure Williams – who allegedly also used bounties at a former job with the Washington Redskins – should ever coach in the league again. The team itself can, and should be, docked a future draft pick.
This team wanted hard hits and injuries? Well, what goes around comes around. The league needs to hit this team hard, and cause a little injury.