Bernstein: We Can’t Be Too Mad About NFL Bounties

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) NFL players getting a little extra pocket-cash for “kill shots” isn’t really what we’re talking about as we learn the details of the Gregg Williams bounty system in New Orleans and Washington.

It’s the story, but not the issue.

Immediately after Roger Goodell doles out the various punishments to franchises, executives, coaches and players, everyone will get right back to the business of trying to hurt each other. And we’ll be just fine with that, as we have been for years.

I’m not minimizing the significance of the infractions here: it’s a big deal when paper trails connect administrated slush funds that pay out for brutal incapacitations. There can be no appearance of outright inhumanity at this tenuous point in the sport’s existence, with class-action lawsuits already filed that allege the NFL’s blind eye toward head-injury and concussions.

These violations look worse in the current environment, with both owners and players keeping safety at the forefront of public discussion. And they highlight the dissonant cross-currents of the moment.

Coaches, particularly defensive coordinators like Williams, are trying to use every bit of possible motivation to make their players as destructive as they can be. Rarely will anybody admit it, but one goal of NFL defenders is, indeed, to injure. It may not always be the primary objective, but it is hard, satisfying evidence of professional success — transmitting as much force as possible into the opponent, within the rules.

No fan of the Chicago Bears should be wagging a finger at Williams, for example, after lionizing teams under Buddy Ryan that pulverized people in similar fashion while also receiving the occasional on-the-side hookup. If we celebrated Wilber Marshall’s 1985 hit on Joe Ferguson, the 1984 demolition of Oakland’s Marc Wilson and David Humm, or the vicious pummeling of Phil Simms in the 1987 opener on Monday Night Football, we have to temper our indignation over what others are now doing.

This is the truth of the game we love, and we need to reconcile these facts. Anybody genuinely angry about a bounty program should be asked: why were you not already just as angry that players were trying as hard as they could to accomplish the same goals, and being coached to do so, even without illegal incentive?

It is about the intent, which has been there forever. Despite comments to the contrary, any honest defensive player or coach can tell you what is said in meeting rooms about the reputation they want to earn by leaving a trail of carnage in their wake.

I have thought about the discordant notes struck by images of player unity against the backdrop of the true violence. NFL teams mingle before games, make symbolic gestures of labor strength across sidelines, and kneel in prayer together on the field after three hours of mayhem.

It may appear cynical to some, now, that teams were plotting to take guys out, only to later hit their knees and praise the lord, the would-be assassins and their targets shoulder to shoulder.

But we need to understand what they understand – the knowledge of the intent is already baked in. More importantly, the intent is tacitly accepted. Those guys praying together, asking about each other’s kids and setting up dinner plans are well aware that there may have been prices on heads that day. Even if not, there were people actively trying to hurt them. That’s what they do for a living.

Williams and others may have broken the rules as they tried to get the most out of their defensive players, but they were not making NFL football something inherently worse than it was, is, or will be.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: We Cant Be Too Mad About NFL Bounties

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I think that Gregggg Williams should be suspended for using too many gs in his name.

  • steve r

    Looks like Gregg Williams has breasts in that picture.

  • Larry Carta

    It always mazes me how often Dan tells his listeners and/or reads how they should feel. I’ll make the decision thank you.

    Larry Carta

    • Danielo

      I guess I never really thought about that because I usually agree with him, but you’re right. He DOES do that an awful lot on here.

      • Larry Carta

        Yes Danielo, I agree with him often as well. Oh, and not just here, but on the air as well. How often do you hear “You shouldn’t care about that?” “Why do you care about that” and on and on.

      • mrdmc

        i thought i was the only one who noticed that…its fine to have an opinion but don’t force them on others or call people idiots because they don’t share you’re sports opinion

  • Always At My Desk

    Still waiting for Dan’s opine on Nippsy Hustle’s Adventures in Crossfire.

  • John Van Schmidt

    Wow, you can take Matt Bowen out of Glenbard West but you can’t take the Glenbard West out of Matt Bowen.

    • shatterstar

      The Dump on The Bump.

  • Glockster

    Bernsie has a point here: defenders have been out to hurt for a long time and will be as long as there is still football.

    And it is really hard for me, and likely any fan, to come down too hard on Gregg WIlliams without being a hypocrite. I’ve looked up one of those “NFL’s Hardest Hits” videos on YouTube. I’ve marveled at some of the killshots that made it into rotation on SportsCenter. The truth is that we as fans have been handing out bounties for years, and there is no end in sight.

    • Danielo

      “The truth is that we as fans have been handing out bounties for years, and there is no end in sight.”

      Well put.

  • MJY

    The only thing I find very ironic is Bernsie was blasting people for espousing this same point Friday. And now he agrees with them.


    • loud noises

      because Matt Bowen(score’s football jesus) is on Monday. They never disagree with him, Hub, or Steve Stone.

  • been banned

    Excellent point—never a nary of a hint of disagreement with those three; bowen, hub, stoney– As if they’re sacred and all knowing.

    Bernstein is frauding again…last week when this all came to light he was chomping at the bit, as if this was going to be his next Penn State tear down, and he could milk it for another month or three. Now all of a sudden we’re supposed to be guilt riddled because we once rooted for Wilber Marshall to tackle someone.
    Cant have it both ways Bernsie. But in his typical fashion, he takes a strong stance on something, than realized, uh-oh, the general public is taking that same stance, and quickly changes positions, to never, ever match the publics position on anything. This man must make his near Million dollar a year salary in a form of compensation that rewards being a contrarian to the publics position on anything.

    Could you imagine being a friend with this guy? Constantly taking alternate positions to whatever you do, not because he truly believes in something different, but simply for the sake of argument and tension. Worse yet, imagine being married to this guy.

  • r53787

    Did you miss/forget the part where Bennett was injured against the Saints Dan? or the part where Omiyale hada pull a Saint off Jay and later stated the Saints were playing dirty? and miss the part where Jay was kicked in the throat in that same Saints game Dan? There has always been a difference in playing hard and tuff and playing dirty Dan. The difference usually lies in the Coach of the teams. Look at the Lions and how their Coach always seems to have problems with opposing Coaches and the lions play dirty without a doubt as a team.

  • The Molitor Lizard

    This is a problem that Is not surprising but could be solved by raising the fines to the player. What the league could do is fine the player x amount and fine the team say 5x or 10x. That would make the price of committing these acts more costly .The drawbacks are the same as those that currently exist such as the system being based on judgment calls and the fact that raising fines makes players who are already pensive about making illegal hits more pensive.

    We already know this isn’t an isolated problem and most likely has many more offenders than the Saints and the Redskins so this will have to be solved by a sweeping fine hike across the league. That is, if one would want to stop this problem.

  • been banned

    They truly want to end this stuff, then none of that Spygate handslap nonsense. Lifetime or near lifetime bans, criminal charges, and IRS investigations are whats needed to send the message the NFL is done with this. The Duerson family may have just won their case without even presenting it, now that its known this practice has probably been commonplace for decades. The scary part is the suits that will come after the Duerson one—with this now as a mitigating factor, the payouts could be endless.

    They dont crack down or just hand slap, then it will be, the NFL as it was once known. Get the Govt or local authorities in on this…they did for the NHL when on ice violence got out of hand….IRS needs to poke around some of these coaches, owners, and players. Goodell the whole world is watching.

  • Cris Benson

    In 2009 the New Orleans Saints played the Arizona Cardinals in a NFL divisional playoff game and Kurt Warner was knocked out of the game after a blind side hit by defensive end Bobby McCray. The next season Warner would retire.

    Bret Favre and the Minnesota Vikings played the Saints the following week in the NFC conference championship and Favre would be hit by Saints Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray injuring his ankle. The Saints had received two unnecessary roughness penalties for cheap shots on Favre and McCray would be later fined by the league for the un-penalized hit on Favre.

    Neither Favre nor Warner knew that the Saints had a pool that possibly totaled over $50,000 that was used to reward player’s cash payments for knocking out the two future hall of fame quarterbacks.

    As a football fan I understand that the sport is built on controlled violence and that players are likely to be injured. However when a player is paid a sum of $1,500 to knock a offensive player out of a game and an additional $1,000 for seeing them carted off the field that makes me sick.

    Not mention that the Saints doubled and tripled these amounts during the playoffs. This bounty story is the ugly side of the game of professional football.

  • Lil' Bycracke

    You’re Gay!


    You can have an, entirely, satisfying hockey game without guys getting smashed into the glass. The blue ice is there, to make sure that the goal tender doesn’t get shoved in with the puck.
    Which manager is telling his catcher to stay out of the way of the plate?
    Baseball evolved from Cobb’s sharpened cleats into the shins of shortstops.
    In all honesty, basketball will be the toughest one to erase hard contact, because the players are too fast, and the boundaries are too small.
    But it is wrong for NFL coaches to sanction “shots that bring out the stretcher.”
    Otherwise, every QB would’ve suffered the same fate as Jim McMahon. Place Kickers would be replaced every week. And, every team would have running back/ wide receiver by committee. The game would devolve to nothing more than a melee where the ball won’t even matter and you’d see, yes, fighting in the NFL. No thanks

  • JC

    “Those guys…. are well aware that there may have been prices on heads that day.”

    Actually, no. Most NFL players – like Bowen – were not important enough to warrant that kind of ‘bounty” attention during any level of their playing days. Therefore, the roster-fillers could enter a game without the need to watch their backs or prepare for cheap shots. Bowen – and 80% of the other NFL non-star, low impact players – are never the targets so, of course, they defend the practice. It can’t hurt them because they simply aren’t stars or game-changers.

    You can bet it would be different perspective if someone like Bowen got knocked out of a game or missed part of a season because of a “bounty”-induced cheap shot. But non-stars could play comfortably knowing that the practice was only aimed upwards to the better players.

  • John Van Schmidt

    From Bernstein: “Williams and others may have broken the rules as they tried to get the most out of their defensive players, but they were not making NFL football something inherently worse than it was, is, or will be.”

    That’s a dumb statement.
    One way which it has made it worse: Tackling. Players are no longer tackling. They are going for kill shots – anyone notice more conclusions? Yeah, I know Dan I don’t have the stats to back me.
    The second way is the target placed on QBs. You want Cutler injured for 1/2 the season, and watch 10-3 and 6-0 games? Then some among us listen to you and the human sock puppet next to you rail on and on about Lovie and how teams are bad and use QBs from Colorado State.
    This is exactly how it gets worse.

    • mrdmc

      thats a great call on the sock puppet who never has a thought about anything until Dan gives it to him


    There’s, really, only two forms of retaliation against a defensive player out for blood:
    a chop block ( a fifteen yard flag)
    a stiff arm from someone with the ball.
    There is beating an offending team, but that gets increasingly unlikely if better players are in the hospital.
    All of these points make it wrong.
    Why take out horse collaring? Why take out linking arms?
    Oh, and, now what’s wrong with hockey fights?

    • John Van Schmidt

      Great point, about hockey fights. If the NFL guys , who are in an union, still want to kill each other, then why is there a double standard about fighting in the NHL, whose players are in an union. Bernstein is full of it but I’ll read his articles anyway.

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