It was just over one year ago that we heard of the death of Dave Duerson, a former safety for the Chicago Bears and the Phoenix Cardinals. Duerson had committed suicide by inflicting a gunshot wound to his own chest and his body was discovered in his home in Florida. Along with his untimely passing came a text message written by Duerson. It stated that he wanted his family to donate his brain to medicine, hoping to aid in research efforts that were being conducted in the hopes of finding a cure. A cure for degenerative brain diseases.
Over time, Duerson's past concussions from playing in the National Football League had taken a toll on his body and eventually, the head traumas lead to a neurodegenerative disease that was incurable.
Other players like Duerson have suffered greatly from their time in the NFL as well. I think of Steve Gleason, a hero of the New Orleans area, who has been diagnosed with ALS. There is no doubt that his disease came as a result of hard hits while playing football.
So when the NFL security department made their discovery about the bounty system that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was running with the Saints (and possibly other teams), it really got me thinking. Why are players accepting bonuses under the table if they are successfully able to injure their opponents? Aren't they all part of one big, happy football family?
From hearing so many former players and football analysts that once played in the league talk, it sure doesn't sound like it. In fact, it sounds like they're all a bunch of hypocrites.
Flashback to this past summer where the NFLPA and the NFL were in a fierce debate and in the midst of a lockout. The owners wanted more money, the players didn't want to give it to them. How were they able to find some common ground towards a resolution? It was through new safety rules.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players are no longer forced to practice quite as much. The training camp schedule has been cut down, workout times are now limited to 2.5 hours, there is only one practice in pads allowed per day, etc. This was the compromise that the owners were forced to give up in order to get the players to cooperate.
So at the time, it appears that safety was number one on the priority list for the players. And it was for good reasons. Reducing the wear and tear that their bodies have to take is undoubtedly beneficial to their health.
When the news broke about this whole 'Bountygate' scandal, I was completely caught off guard. It seems that the Saints players -- namely their captain, Jonathan Vilma -- had been offering money to each other in a system that would pay anyone for knocking a key player of the opposing team out of the game. In other words, if you were to hurt or injure someone on the other side of the football, you got paid.
$10,000 here, a couple grand there. It didn't matter, as long as the task was completed.
Wait a second... Aren't the players all about safety? I mean, isn't this what we always hear about when they speak to the media and isn't it what they wanted out of the CBA negotiations? As the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch would put it, "I now realize these guys truly don't give a flip about their health."
Players from all around the league -- retired and active -- signed on to Twitter to voice their opinions on the subject. More than a few of them ended up saying things like, 'What's the big deal?' or, 'this kind of thing happens all the time.'
So if it isn't a problem, why is it that safety was the sticking point for your negotiations during the lockout? Is there just so much ignorance through the ranks of the players that they don't realize the implications of having a "hurt for hire" business? Does short term fame and fortune supersede the idea of long-term health?
It seems that everything the players worked towards during the CBA process was simply a public relations move. They knew they were dead in the water from the beginning. The owners had the upper hand and the players were forced to give them what they wanted. So to shed the appearance that they were weak or that they had lost, they decided to take the safety route.
And just wait. 20 years down the road, we will be seeing these exact same players suing the NFL for putting them in a situation that caused them insufferable pain in the form of degenerative disease. I mean, obviously the league put them in these situations, right?
The punishment for this crime against themselves will be harsh. The Saints will be stripped of draft picks, fines will be handed down and careers might even be lost. Commissioner Roger Goodell has to nip this one in the bud and warn any other teams/coaches/players that may even consider doing something of this nature in the future.
But hey, if the players won't save themselves, then I guess Goodell will have to do so for them.
All of what the players union stood for over the past year has been undermined by this most recent debacle. They obviously don't care about their health that much, so why create the illusion that they do? Actually, why don't we just go ahead and make the regular season longer? It's not like it will make a difference anyway. Throw a little more cash the players' way and they would probably do it.
The 'Bountygate' scandal has the players walking on eggshells now and they might not be able to climb out of the hole they have put themselves in. It's just not fair to the fans that the players are out there looking to hurt one another.
And most of all, it's not fair to the players themselves.