We’re Bounty Hunters Too

If someone offered you $1,500 to separate someone’s shoulder, tear a ligament in their knee or give them a concussion, what would you do? Of course no one is going to make that deal; it’s a business deal straight out of “The Godfather,” yet one that has been going on in the National Football League (NFL) for a number of years.

The NFL recently discovered that Gregg Williams, an assistant coach and defensive coordinator in the league, has been offering a “bounty” to his defensive players for the past decade so. More players have since stated that this type of program is not limited only to Williams, but is widespread in the league.

As expected, the league, headed by commissioner Roger Goodell, is hitting this issue hard. Violence has been a big concern in the NFL recently, with evidence showing that former players often suffer from various neurological issues as a result of concussions during their careers. If the league is enacting such a vigorous anti-concussion, anti-violence campaign or at least giving the appearance of such a campaign, then surely they’re going to discipline those who were rewarding players for engaging in this very activity.

But a good number of former players have not really defended the “bounty hunting” but have said that it isn’t really as big a deal as the media and everyone else is making it out to be, only because violence is so widespread in the NFL that even if there were no monetary rewards or pats on the back for knocking a player out of the game it would still happen. While I don’t agree that the bounties should be downplayed, these players do get one thing right: the NFL is a league predicated on violence.

Goodell and the NFL are going to come down hard on the bounty hunters because they have to cover their own butts and appeal to the growing number of people who are calling for a less violent sport. But the not-so-secret secret that NFL executives, team owners and players all know is that less violent NFL with no hard hits is a vastly less profitable league  — or even a non-existent one.

The league has created an image of machismo and patriotism to cover up the blight of violence in the sport, and the American consumer has bought into this brand wholeheartedly, making the NFL a $9 billion-a-year business. If we’re demanding violence, then the NFL is going to supply it; they just have to cover their bases and say that they don’t want to. The implication then is that the American consumer is just as complicit in the violence as the players, coaches and executives.

Pushing the point even further, this could speak for American society as a whole, being so entertainment-driven that they’re willing to forgo morals for the most part. Just look at the GOP presidential debates, where the raucous crowd cheers when Rick Perry mentions the death penalty or Newt Gingrich blasts John King for questioning him on his infidelity with his first two wives.  These cheers are the same when an NFL player gets hit hard, is slow to get up or lies motionless on the grass. Granted the crowd doesn’t cheer when a player lies hurt on the ground, but you can’t divorce the hit from the injury.

By demanding violence so strongly in the sport, the American consumer is only encouraging the NFL and its coaches and players to engage bounty programs. And if we are paying for the violence, then we are bounty hunters as much as anyone else.


Joel Marshall is a third-year literary journalism major. He can be reached at jbmarsha@uci.edu.