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Kovacevic: NFL ultimate enabler on bounties

| Monday, March 5, 2012

The NFL again has assumed its perpetually awkward position on a high horse, this time by exposing the New Orleans Saints for a bounty program that compromised "the integrity of our game."

That was Roger Goodell's characterization in the league's announcement Friday. He cited the single most important aspect of competition any commissioner is entrusted to protect.

For real.

In related news, Goodell was informed that interior linemen sometimes will say really mean things about each other's moms before a snap.

This crisis — and it's reaching that level, judging by the hyperbolic coast-to-coast coverage over the weekend — was so stunning, so jarring, that its unique impact could be felt ... for nearly an hour.

By late Friday afternoon, Tony Dungy told Pro Football Talk that the Tennessee Titans used to put up bounties on Peyton Manning.

Before dinner, the Washington Post broke that the 2004-07 Redskins — playing for the same defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, being implicated in the New Orleans case — did exactly the same thing.

And by nightfall, current and former NFL players everywhere were nearly unified in their abject ambivalence to this qualifying as news. As Matt Bowen, a safety for those Washington teams, penned for a piece in the Chicago Tribune, "Bounties, cheap shots, whatever you want to call them, they're part of this game."

So, who in Goodell's NFL Security force got the Sherlock Award for this coup?

Was Seal Team 6 summoned?

Understand, please: I'm not making light of athletes putting bounties on competitors. Some of the cases described involving these Saints and Redskins can turn a stomach, not least of which was New Orleans specifically targeting Kurt Warner and Brett Favre for injury. It's an abhorrent practice, and the league is absolutely right to put an immediate and harsh stop to it.

But that shouldn't stop anyone from asking why exactly the NFL waited so long.

Or to question whether the league is serious this time.

You probably remember the league's best chance in recent years to address this, publicly and firmly, even if the league won't appreciate the reminder. Happened in October 2008, soon after a game between the Steelers and Ravens — naturally — when Baltimore loudmouth linebacker Terrell Suggs was part of this exchange on a radio show:

Host: "Did y'all put a bounty out on that young man?"

The reference was to the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall.

Suggs: "Definitely. The bounty was out on him, and the bounty was out on Hines Ward. We just didn't get him between the whistles."

No, but the Ravens got to Mendenhall. Motivated by money or not, Ray Lewis hit Mendenhall hard enough to end his season with a shoulder injury.

This was NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson's response to Suggs' confession at the time: "That 'bounty' notion is completely against the rules. To the extent that someone is engaged in that activity, we will look into it and address it."

Right. There was no suspension, no fine, not even a finger-wag.

The Ravens' PR staff crafted a statement from Suggs denouncing bounties and — this is a beauty — former coach Brian Billick wrote the following on his blog: "This is standard operating procedure in virtually every locker room in the NFL. ... What is worth commenting on is how stupid it is to talk about it afterward. Locker room talk should be just that."

The NFL, in apparent harmony with Billick's thinking, never spoke of it again.

And now, with the issuing of a single press release, we're supposed to accept that the league — same people, with Goodell and Anderson still in place — suddenly are mortified by this and will come down hard on New Orleans. Multiple draft picks could be docked. The team, as well as individuals, could face huge fines and suspensions. Washington will be next.

Monday, the NFL takes its next step toward washing hands. The league Sunday night leaked word to ESPN that Williams will be summoned to New York on Monday to further discuss the case, even though it's essentially open and shut. The real reason is Williams will draw media attention akin to a perp walk, and we'll all get to put a face to the shame. One that isn't Goodell's.

Changing the culture will take a lot more than this.

The Steelers' Ryan Clark, a member of the Redskins for Williams' first two seasons there, tweeted this Friday: "Whoever is snitching on the Saints D should be ashamed of themselves. No one was talking about the 'bounty' when they got paid. ... I'm not saying 'bounties' are ethical or right but I am saying if you participate don't go back & tell on the people u did it with!"

Say what you will about Clark — who then expected to be taken seriously when claiming Sunday, "I've never been offered $ to put a player out of a game" — but be sure his mindset is richly representative.

What the league needs now is more players standing up to this practice, speaking out as boldly as Arizona's Jay Feely did, also on Twitter: "No place in NFL for bounties. Physical play is an attribute, but malicious intent should be removed."

He's the Cardinals' kicker.

Additional Information:

All atwitter

Here is how some Steelers reacted on Twitter to the NFL bounty story:

Ryan Clark: 'I'm not saying 'bounties' are ethical or right but I am saying if you participate don't go back & tell on the people u did it with!'

Clark: 'Never in my career has a defensive coach singled out a player and put $ on his head. I've never been offered $ to put a player out of a game.'

LaMarr Woodley: 'Trust me RC the whole world kno u will do it for free'

James Harrison: 'We'll see how concerned the NFL is about player safety when they decide what the punishment for the saints is.'

Harrison: 'I'll just say this, if that was me I would have been kicked out of the NFL!!!'

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