NFL Bounties

The revelation about the bounty system that the New Orleans Saints had for hits that knocked opposing players out games brings up a point about transparency in regulation.  People seem very upset about what the Saints did, but ask yourself this.  What’s the difference between a rule that says you get, say, $1,000 for injuring somebody and a more general policy that says “We love those kinds of hits, and we take that into account when we make contract decisions or hand out special bonuses to players.”

The answer is that the only difference is that one is clear and the other isn’t.  That’s important though. There are many contexts in which we show respect for certain values by not rubbing your nose in the fact that an exception is being made.  At least that’s the lesson that I take the Court’s affirmative action cases in Grutter and Ricci. Assigning numbers or slots to people based on race is offensive, but saying that race is a factor in a holistic decision is not.

Fans understand that football is violent and that players are sometimes trying to hurt somebody.  That just don’t want to know that too clearly.  Because that would be wrong.


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4 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    This reminds me of Guido Calabresi’s evil demon hypothetical for the costs of avoiding accidents.

  2. AYY says:

    But how do you know they take that into account in making contract decisions or handing out bonuses? Maybe I’m wrong on this, but I thought that players get graded by the coaching staff on how well they accomplish their assignments. So if you’re a defensive player who doesn’t knock anyone out of a game but makes tackles or breaks up the blocking scheme, or forces the qb to rush his throws, you’ve done your assignments and your next contract offer, which might be several years down the road, reflects that.

  3. AYY says:

    A couple of other points:
    I doubt that a team would ever say that because
    a, when they negotiate a contract the team tells the player how the team’s losing money, and how overpaid he is, and how he’s barely good enough to be on the team, or yes he is good, but with salary cap they can’t pay hin any more and still be competitive
    b, I assume a player can’t sue the other team for injures that are part of the game because he assumed the risk of those types of injuries, but why can’t he argue that he doesn’t assume the risk of there being any kind of bounty or incentive for injuring an opposing player. In that case he could seek punitive damages.
    So the more general policy hypothesized in the post doesn’t seem to make business sense.

  4. Kent says:

    I heard someone on the radio yesterday (I think on ESPN’s Mike and Mike) comment that the “Bounty” does not cause players to go head hunting in a dirty way but merely to play as hard as they can. I believe the comment came from a former player who added that it is easy to take someone out of the game (by injury) and if you want to, you could on almost every play. An interesting point, I thought.