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The NFL’s Most Unethical Coach

Most pro football fans (i.e., American-style football) will recall the NFL’s infamous “bounty scandal,” dating back to 2009. This was the debacle that had the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff (notably Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams and Head Coach Sean Payton) implicated in a scheme to pay its players extra money for intentionally injuring the opposition.

One doesn’t have to be a football aficionado to recognize the importance of knocking a key player out of a game. Imagine facing the Denver Broncos without Peyton Manning, or the Patriots without Tom Brady.   Las Vegas oddsmakers are going to refrain from setting a point-spread until they’re certain whether or not Brady or Peyton will be on the field.

But those bounty targets didn’t have to be quarterbacks. They could be receivers, running backs, defensive backs or even boring offensive linemen—whose job it is to block. Indeed, it could be any player who “made a difference,” which is to say any starter because, given the caliber of football played in the NFL, every starter has an important role.

Accordingly, defensive cheerleader Gregg Williams was slapped with an indefinite ban, and the Big Enchilada himself, Sean Payton, received a year’s suspension, making him the only coach in the history of the NFL (going all the way back to 1920) to be suspended for a full season.

Besides being clearly unethical, bounties are illegal. They are prohibited by both the collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association), and the standard NFL player contract. This sport is violent enough without players being offered extra money for intentionally trying to cripple each other.

Yet there are hard-nosed observers who see it differently. People (alas, many of whom live in New Orleans) who argue that football is a brutal game, that bounties (or their equivalent) have existed for decades, that today’s critics are simply a bunch of bleeding heart, reform-minded hypocrites, and that the Payton and Williams were scapegoats, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You still hear people argue that Sean Payton’s participation in the bounty incident doesn’t make him “unethical”; it merely makes him someone who “wanted to win.” These holdouts need to be reminded of another, equally loathsome episode from Payton’s past. The man was a scab. In 1987, with the NFL players’ union on strike, he willingly crossed an authorized picket line for the sole purpose of stealing an established player’s job.

Needless to say, had this picket line been composed of highly-evolved New Jersey Teamsters, circa 1962, rather than a group of professional athletes, Payton never would have made it across. He would have been too busy picking up his teeth.

The entertainment industry (i.e., television, movies, music and sports) is renowned for generating tons of money, which is one reason the Dallas Cowboys are appraised at nearly a billion dollars.   Once TV revenue increased exponentially, and the NFL began rolling in dough, it was the players’ union—and the union alone—that got these men an equitable slice of the pie.  And they had to fight to get that slice.

One of the few weapons available to a union is the strike—the work stoppage—a tactic whereby workers “punish” management (by depriving them of profits) by “punishing” themselves (willingly giving up their own wages). It’s a bold, sacrificial undertaking, one that involves a fair amount of risk.

Men like Payton—sharp-eyed men of low character who view strikes simply as “opportunities” for advancing themselves (he was undrafted by the League coming out of college)—need to be properly vilified. Only our abiding respect for reptiles prevents us from calling him a fucking snake.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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