The NFL Bounty-gate

Why is it that every happenstance of trouble gets tagged with ‘gate’?  I digress…  You may have noted that The Concussion Blog has been rather quiet on the issues surrounding the New Orleans Saints – namely Greg Williams – and their “pay-for-injuring” program.  There are some reasons for this: full information, previous experiences, not totally concussion related, etc.  However after hearing the talking heads around the country delve into the matter more after the explosive audio released (NSFW) yesterday, by Sean Pamphilon, I feel it is time to comment.

Perhaps this problem does not register very high on my meter because I have played sports, or that I have been in football meeting and locker rooms, or that I know and talk with several current and former NFL players.  Regardless this ‘gate’ was neither surprising nor extremely disturbing; after all we are talking about professional gladiators.  My feelings, however, have changed; enough so that it is time to break our and my silence on the issue.

We must first understand that 99.99% of the general population have ZERO grasp on the actual mentality and pressures of playing professional football, that should be honored.  However what 99.99% of the fans of this sport should realize (any sport for that matter) is that part of competition is finding and exposing weaknesses in your opponent to gain an advantage to win.  The other simple fact that 100% of those watching, commenting, playing and coaching football MUST accept is that injuries are an inherent risk of football and life for that matter.

What has become painfully obvious in the past 24 hours is that the mentality of players about injuries is completely counter-grain to what we have been preaching about concussions.  You see – and players if you read this correct me if I am wrong – the will and want to stay on the field for as long as possible overrides safety when it comes to head injuries.  Players and analysts have been spewing this to us lately; “don’t take out my knees… hit me high.”  This frame-of-mind deals with the ability to make money, the previous thought process – WHICH IS COMPLETELY WRONG – is that a knee injury ends that game and a “measly concussion” can be played through.  There is no foresight on the part of the players regarding long-term effects on the brain.  Most forward in their mind is the recovery after a knee injury and how much time (see money) will be affected by such an injury.


All of that being said, after hearing the audio yesterday I was disturbed by the ACL comment, however what raised my blood pressure was each mention of the head.  From the first mention to the 11th time (including the mention of Alex Smiths’ chin and #10’s concussion) I became more furious with the culture of the game.  There were two separate cases where mention was made of knocking someone out, even more troubling.

If a player wants to play within the rules and make clean hits that result in other competitors injuries, that is something we must decide we are OK with – I am.  What we CANNOT be OK with is the explicit instruction to injure, maim or harm players outside the framework of the sport.  Intentionally going for the head and repeating it ELEVEN times falls into this category with me.  Even at the professional level, as I have explained many times is a different animal than the levels below.

Where this is and will be the major issue for the sport is when Johnny and Davey playing junior football at the age of 10 is going out with the same frame-of-mind that is being coached at the professional level.  When the parents of a high school player who is laying unconscious see the other players whooping-and-hollering after a helmet-to-helmet hit on a Friday night, it becomes a huge problem.

There is NO PLACE for this in the already high-impact and inherently risky sport.  Play the game with respect of self and others and this game will continue for many years to come; play it like savage animals without concern for safety and it too will go away.

The culture of the sport is going to HAVE to change; we must start superseding the value of a concussion over an orthopedic injury.  Enforcing the rules already in place and eliminating the intentional blows to the head will help create a sport more viable in the future.  And once a concussion occurs getting the proper assessment and management will only foster a better environment for stable growth of football.


Please feel free to comment or send in an email regarding this, I can post comments anonymously.

6 thoughts on “The NFL Bounty-gate

  1. A Concerned Mom April 6, 2012 / 18:41

    Pamphilon added a new statement at his blog (linked in the post) since I listened to the audio the other day. One thing that had stayed in the back of my mind, was that Sean mentioned feeling as though he needed to learn more about the risks of tackle football before allowing his twelve-year-old to play. It made me wonder if he was motivated, in part, as a parent looking out not only for his own child, but for the children of others. Today’s statement would seem to back that up (of course, others may not believe him). Below are a couple of sentences that really struck home for me:

    “In effect, yesterday, I gave up a sure thing, to do what myself and many other parents would consider the right thing.

    I feel as strongly today as I have from the beginning that the audio speaks for itself and that the public had a right to hear it. I appreciate all the correspondence and support from parents who understand the gravity of this issue.”

    It’s unfortunate that the release of the tape has strained his relationship with Steve Gleason. It does seem as though the actual tape changed the dynamics of the situation. Based on what we now know about the long-term consequences of concussive and subconcussive hits, it may be time to re-evaluate how the game is played at every level, from the pros to pee wee.

  2. A Concerned Mom April 7, 2012 / 13:37

    Lindsay Barton has a good article up at MomsTeam about the challenges involved in reducing concussive and sub-concussive hits (this somewhat ties into the cultural changes needed).

    “Experts have focused on five ways that the risk of brain injury from playing contact and collision sports could be reduced:
    1.Better training and coaching
    2.Better enforcement of existing rules and rule changes
    3.Better equipment
    4.Delaying start of contact and collision sports; and/or by
    5.Establishing “hit counts.””

    After after watching my son’s practices and then reading about the dangers of concussive hits, sub-concussive hits and continuing to play or practice with a concussion, I truly feel it is possible for a group of uninformed dads to push young players to the point of serious injuries. My son’s coaches thought they were toughening the boys up and that they were helping them become better players by encouraging them to hit as hard as possible. Even when the concussions started to occur, they had no idea how serious the injuries were. (When I told one coach my son wouldn’t play again, he said well I guess if he’s not used to playing rough … as if the problem was with an eight-year-old player who had never played before and not with how practices were conducted. Another excuse I heard was that some boys just learn faster than others.)

    Based on the information that was available at the time, my son’s team should not have been practicing as they were. As a mom, I’m horrified by the thought of another pee wee (middle school & high school too) season going by without limitations on full tackle drills for these kids. Trickle down safety is not acceptable. The younger kids aren’t making intentional blows to the head – most of the time they can’t help it – their heads are basically too big to avoid contact – and when they make a tackling error or get smoked by one of the bigger kids, they pay a big price. And then, of course they have to deal with a pediatrician who may or may not be up to speed on concussions, along with school personnel who may have no idea how to provide academic accommodations.

  3. Don Brady, PhD, PsyD, NCSP, Licensed Psychologist April 9, 2012 / 21:35

    Please read this comment as being said kindly:

    ‘Safer football sounds likes magical thinking…sorta like put a filter on a cigarette (courtesy of Matt C.)…to make smoking cigarettes ‘safer’.

    Newspaper headlines mistakenly project the terms ‘FLUKE football injuries and deaths’…when these injuries and deaths ARE PREDICTABLE every year…and clearly are not improbable.

    Though a so-called small statistical percentage of children may die each year…each death is clinically and humanly significant!!!!

    Our children are being placed ‘in harms way’ when they walk onto on the football fields, and for some youngsters their fields become their ‘sports graveyard”…for what logical reasons????

    It is becoming more apparent that we are playing Russian Roulette with children’s brains, emotions and other parts of their bodies.

    Perhaps parents should read this following mantra to their child:

    Today as you enter onto the football field…it may be the last time that I know you as my son/daughter. Statistics state you may be brain-damaged or die as a result of participating in football.

    Some advocates of football argue football creates physical health…suggest they honestly examine the financial, physical, social and emotional costs of a sport-related injury to their child. Also encourage parents to ask numerous pro and amateur players who retired (planned or injury-induced) from football re their current injury status and related adverse implications.


    • A Concerned Mom April 10, 2012 / 05:53

      Thanks for your comments. I understand where you’re coming from. My concern right now, is that many parents are totally in the dark when it comes to brain trauma in youth football. Although I’ve decided not to have my sons play, I would like to see the following changes for youth football: (1) every parent, child, and coach should need to be informed about concussions before agreeing to participate, (2) there needs to be limitations placed on the time spent in full tackle drills (there are no rules in this area at all to protect children right now, many youth leagues answer to no one but their volunteer board members, who may have no idea what they’re doing).

      The youngest leagues are the last ones expected to see any safety changes. These leagues often aren’t included in state concussion laws. I at least want parents to be given some type of warning before they sign up. I’ll leave the questions about whether or not these children should even play up to the experts (I anticipate that issue will take time to play out, it will be more than a shame if parents aren’t notified of the risks in the mean time).

      As an aside, I watched an old clip of Mike Wallace opening up an interview by doing an advertisement for Phillip Morris …. I think he called it a “natural smoke” ….

  4. A Concerned Mom April 10, 2012 / 12:55

    “Turley, though, said the fallout from bounties and literal head-hunting transcends one franchise. The NFL is being besieged by lawsuits from hundreds of players who claim they weren’t properly protected from head trauma. There also is the trickle-down effect on a growing number of parents who question whether it’s safe for their children to participate in youth football.”

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