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National Football League Brief: Payton suspension causes setback for New Orleans Saints

By Jacob Lurie
On March 26, 2012

The New Orleans Saints have met their maker. After years of collecting payouts for deliberately hurting other players, such as quarterback Brett Favre, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended coach Sean Payton for the 2012-2013 season, while also seizing the franchise's next two second-round picks.

Plays in the bounty system started with a standard pass. Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy snatched the ball from his center. As his receivers struggled to get open, McCoy scrambled to evade the flashes of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense that barged toward him. Approximately one second later, however, a vicious helmet-to-helmet assault from Steelers' linebacker James Harrison sent McCoy reeling. He then lay writhing on the ground.

Football is inescapably a rough sport. However, with the increase in awareness about the dangers of helmet-to-helmet collisions, rules have been instituted to ensure that hits like the one suffered by McCoy occur less frequently.

Still, however, these hits happen. According to a poll conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Alzheimer's and similar diseases related to memory loss have been diagnosed in former players at a rate of 19 times the standard for men ages 30 to 49. Another poll from the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes discovered that over one-fifth of former NFL players that claim to have sustained three or more concussions have also developed depression-like symptoms. These polls suggest a link between the head trauma obtained from participating in football and neurological disorders developed later in life.

This sobering data affirms why news of the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal is so disturbing.

"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," said Goodell. "We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities."

Payton attempted to cover up the bounty system, even when the league established that no such system could exist. Gregg Williams, the Saints' former defensive coordinator who now works with the St. Louis Rams, has also been indefinitely suspended by the league. The Saints were also fined $500,000 .

The bounty program officially began in 2009, the year in which Williams first joined the Saints and New Orleans secured their franchise's first Super Bowl championship. The bounty system continued up through the 2011 season, even after continued warnings from the league that warned teams to put a stop to any potential misconduct.

Players were paid hundreds of dollars out of a pool created by the players, coaches and others affiliated with the Saints. At one point, during the team's 2009 championship run, the pool grew to as large as $50,000.

Who is truly to blame for the Saints' scandal? Certainly Williams had a role in perpetuating the bounty scheme. Payton and the players involved can't be excused either.

Football is a form of entertainment. In today's fast-paced world, hard-hitting football is a must. We want to witness brute contact. We need explosive collisions that dismantle players like McCoy.

The focus of the American people does not yet take into account the safety of the players involved in the sport of football. The Steelers crowd booed emphatically as Harrison was tagged with a penalty in a game, indifferent to a man twisting on the ground.

If you are looking for someone to blame for the Saints' bounty scandal, perhaps we should all take a long look in the mirror. The coaches and players broke rules and endangered the livelihood of many individuals. However, perhaps it is the spectators' attitude towards the sport that also needs readjustment. 

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