Within the past month, the National Football League has completed and launched new investigations regarding the New Orleans Saints “BountyGate”. This comes in light of allegations that former Saints defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, instituted a slush fund that paid out bonuses for players that brought intentional harm to an opposing player. The investigation has received heavy coverage from the media and has sparked controversy given the penalties that were imposed on the Saints; namely, the suspension of Sean Payton and loss of a second round pick in the 2012 and 2013 drafts. Underlying the scandal is the NFL’s recent initiation of more stringent rules geared at protecting the players. The following case examines the actions of Gregg Williams and applies general morality and the ethical reasoning of Immanuel Kant to arrive at a clear course of action or solution.
National Football League
The National Football League has become one of America’s most followed and respected professional sports in history. Forming in June of 1922, the NFL fielded 18 franchises as compared to the 32 teams split between the American and National leagues today, which were founded in 1950 to replace the “Eastern” and “Western” divisions. A few years later in 1936, the college draft as we know it today was instituted and helped to expand the popularity and organization of the league. Interestingly enough, the development of a plastic helmet was not made possible until the mid 1950’s around the time that the NFL Player’s Association was founded for the protection and aid of players.
More recently, the NFL, with Roger Godell leading the way, has sought to increase the protection of its players. Namely, players are now being fined for “dirty” or blatantly reckless hits such as helmet-to-helmet hits on “defenseless” players. Roger Godell has been commissioner of the NFL since 2006, and in his tenure he has sparked a string actions geared at heightening the protection of its players; football has become increasingly more dangerous and violent. As mentioned above under Goodell’s leadership, the NFL implemented in 2010 additional safety rules that protected players deemed as “defenseless” and expanded and standardized this across the league. The rule was intended to protect those players just completing a catch from receiving blows to the head or neck by an opponent who launches. Additionally, a play will be called “dead” when a ball carrier’s helmet is removed, protecting them from serious blows to the head. Moreover, Goodell personally notified all teams that more significant measures would be taken regarding a breach of the above rules. The amount of fines and suspensions for these “dirty” hits has significantly increased recently and the fines and regulations seem to undermine the violence and nature of the game of football.
What’s the reasoning behind these new rules and regulations? Inherent with the game and the human race is progress. Progress in the form of bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter individuals competing at a higher level of play. Players these days seem barbaric compared to those back when only leather helmets were needed. [Not only are plastic, among other equipment, helmets necessary but it has gotten to the point where the league must step in and protect these individuals as equipment alone does not suffice. The violence of the game has simply surpassed a level that is controllable by physical protection through shoulder pads and helmets.] The NFL is no different than any large corporation, say, a bank. If risk levels get to a point where there’s no stopping or controlling them, drastic policy measures need to be implemented to ensure protection from this risk.
The New Orleans Saints and Gregg Williams
In November of 1966 the New Orleans Saints were founded by John Mecom and David Dixon and participated in their first season in 1967 under first head coach Tom Fears. Since their inception, the Saints have had a bit of a bumpy road to their first ever playoff win in 2000. During their first 20 years, the Saints rarely achieved a .500 record despite being coached by some of the NFL’s best such as Mike Ditka and Jim Mora. The Saints experienced even more turmoil in 2005 when catastrophic hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and temporarily tore apart the city of New Orleans in which the Superdome (home stadium for N.O.) was used as a refuge for the many that lost their homes. It wasn’t until rookie head coach Sean Payton took the helm in 2006 that the Saints started to experience winning seasons and an eventual first ever Super Bowl in 2009 with a win against the Indianapolis Colts. The 2009 season is memorable and historic given the condition of New Orleans and is widely regarded as what gave the city of Nola hope.
Unfortunately the Saints recent success with Sean Payton has been placed on hold with the findings of an NFL investigation regarding a bounty program known as “BountyGate”. The investigation was based on grounds from an inside source that saw first hand a bounty program was being utilized. The investigation found that the New Orleans Saints operated a slush fund that was used to pay out bonuses for players’ performances in games. These were no ordinary bonuses in that they were paid out for those players that knock out an opposing player, put them on a stretcher, or intentionally injure them so as to put them out of the game. The slush fund is a direct violation of NFL rules but it further violates rules by encouraging players to break the newly appointed safety rules for events such as helmet-to-helmet hits. This slush fund was in operation from 2009 to 2011 in which somewhere between 22 and 27 Saints players were directly involved with the bonuses. At the root of this program is defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been accused of using his own money in the slush fund. Interestingly enough, Williams first year was in 2009 when the Saints went on to win their first ever Super Bowl. Williams is known as a defensive mastermind in which he employs an aggressive 4-3 scheme that is geared at applying heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The investigation found that Williams was the founder of New Orleans’ slush fund. In light of Williams’ involvement, accusations started coming from several different teams claiming that bounties were placed on their players, namely, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. The NFL’s commissioner Goodell responded with the most severe punishments in the league’s 92 year history. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely, Sean Payton suspended for the 2012-13 season, Saints GM Mikey Loomis suspended for the first eight games of the season, the Saints lost their second round pick in the next two upcoming drafts, and the Saints organization was fined $500,000. Currently, the individual players allegedly involved are still under investigation by the NFL Player’s Association to determine if any legal action will be pursued. Controversy has surrounded this revolutionary finding that has left fans, and current and former players alike in shock at such an idea. There is still much speculation as to whether this activity is unique to the Saints or Gregg Williams.
This situation has serious ethical dilemmas that are at the heart of the issue. First and foremost, it is wrong for anyone to seek to intentionally injure another. The easiest and most relevant application of ethical thought refers to the “Golden Rule”. The golden rule can be summed up in the following sentence: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In this rule of reciprocity, the effects of one’s actions on another are taken into account while simultaneously applying a self-interest aspect. Using a non-sports related example could involve individual A who chooses not to steal from individual B because individual A would not want individual B to steal from him or her. Clearly, a player signing into the prestigious National Football League would not want a bounty placed on them. Along those same lines it is safe to say that no one in the NFL would wish serious injury upon himself. Now, many will refute this argument with the view that intentional harm is part of the game; it is the game. However, this is a faulty argument in several ways. The NFL is arguably the most violent game out there today, but this is due to the nature of the game and nothing else. These players sign contracts with various teams because they enjoy the intensity, competition, speed, violence, and adrenaline rush of the game that’s more addicting than a pack of Marlboros. Not because they’ve had a desire to intentionally injure others. However, this argument is a bit of a slipper slope. If the golden rule is applied to the bounty scandal then it is fair to apply it to the league in general. Would one want a 300 plus pound offensive lineman to dive at one’s knees (known as a “cut block”)? The answer is most likely not and the golden rule argument becomes somewhat cloudy in its application to this case. However, no matter how you arrange the situation at hand, when you combine large, grown men in pads going head-to-head, the outcome is a violent one. People confuse the nature of the game with ridiculous bounties such as the one run by Gregg Williams. They think it ironic for punishment to be brought on these players when they are essentially already being paid to injure others, but this again is a flawed view of the sport. The players sign a contract to abide by the rules and regulations of the National Football League, which strictly prohibit bonus funds for in-game performance and, recently, violent helmet-to-helmet contact. Clearly, the players are in violation from an ethical standpoint but also from a legal point of view. Every year the NFL sends reminders and has players sign a document before camp that they will not participate in any bounty-like activities. Seen in this light it is clear that Gregg Williams and those involved were ethically wrong to condone and participate in a bounty program geared at intentionally bringing harm to opposing players.
Now turning to a professional on the matter, what would German philosopher Immanuel Kant conclude regarding BountyGate? According to Kant morality can be summed up in one ultimate commandment of reason, or imperative, from which all duties and obligations derive. An imperative is seen as any action that is deemed necessary and Kant phrases the categorical imperative as, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”. Kant’s theory proposes a method for assessing how to act in certain situations that can be applicable across the board. Applying Kant to the case at hand, the imperative can be read something along the lines of, “It is right for all competitive sports teams to employ “bounty” programs that seek to intentionally cripple opposing players so as to remove them from the respective game and pay out awards in the form of money for doing so”. The sport of football did not achieve such popularity and respect because of an imperative such as the one just listed. The NFL is an organization that relies on the constant cooperative participation of the players in accordance with NFL rules and regulations. Clearly Gregg Williams and the Saints would not will that their bounty program be a universal law in which players or ordinary people for that matter, were paid to intentionally hurt others. If this sort of thought was employed globally, the names of all respective professional organizations could be all interchanged for “Gladiator” (in reference to the events of the Coliseum). This application of deontological thought again helps to arrive at a clear course of action that points towards not employing a bounty system and that it is ultimately ethically wrong. Although violence is a clear aspect of the game of football, this cannot be confused with encouraging players to intentionally injure an opponent and rewarding them for doing so. Yes, these players are being paid, but it is not for the purpose of placing intentional pain on another. This is inherent for the game of football. These players are being paid to participate in the game of football and abide by its rules. The NFL is unlike any other corporation in that there is a hierarchy; lower-level, and all level, employees must abide by the rules and if not, there are serious ramifications.
ESPN.com News. “NFL Hammers Saints For bounties.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 22 Mar. 2012. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7718136/sean-payton-new-orleans-saints-banned-one-year-bounties>.
Silverman, Steve. “Details Get Uglier by the Moment.” Yahoo! Sports. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ycn-11050204>.
Freeman, Mike. “Saints Took Common Practice of Bounties to New, Dangerous Level.” Cbssports. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/17595418/saints-took-common-practice-of-a-bounty-system-to-new-dangerous-level>.
Judge, Clark. “Saints, Team Officials Involved in Bounty Program Should Pay Dearly.” Cbssports. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/17546706/saints-team-officials-involved-in-bounty-program-should-pay-dearly>.
Seifert, Kevin. “Saints’ Shots at Brett Favre Were No Secret.” ESPN. Web. <http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcnorth/post/_/id/39041/saints-shots-at-brett-favre-were-no-secret>.
ESPN.com. “NFL: Saints Defense Had ‘bounty’ fund.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 04 Mar. 2012. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7638603/new-orleans-saints-defense-had-bounty-program-nfl-says>.
King, Peter. “Saints Looking at Severe Punishment for Bounty System.” Sports Illustrated. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/peter_king/03/02/saints.bounties/index.html>.
NFL.com. “NFL Says Saints Created ‘bounty’ Program from 2009 to 2011.” NFL.com. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d82757bcd/article/nfl-says-saints-created-bounty-program-from-20092011>.
- I brainstormed a range of topics and settled on BountyGate because of my interest in sports and affiliation with the football team.
- I did preliminary research on the scandal and found that the majority of information would come from articles as the event is very recent.
- After combining various articles from sites (mainly NFL and ESPN), I applied basic ethical reasoning and Kant’s moral philosophy to the situation at hand.
- Using the above sources I came to a conclusion as to whether or not the bounty was moral or not.
NOTE: Given the recent nature of this case, only articles could be obtained and therefore no scholarly articles or abstracts could be utilized. Additionally, exhibits don’t do much for adding to the content or intent of the paper and therefore not included (except for 1 for a visual stimulation).
“2011 Record and Fact Book.” NFL. Web.
 NFL Record and Fact Book
 NFL Record and Fact Book
 NFL Record and Fact Book
 “Key Moments in Saints History.” New Orleans Saints. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://www.neworleanssaints.com/team/history/key-moments.html>.
 Key Moments in Saints History
 Key Moments in Saints History
 “Full NFL Statement into ‘bounty’ Program Run by New Orleans Saints – New Orleans Saints Football NFL News – NOLA.com.” NOLA.com. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://www.nola.com/saints/index.ssf/2012/03/full_nfl_statement_into_bounty.html>.
 NFL Statement
 Spain, Kevin. “Gregg Williams Hired as New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator.” The Times-Picayune. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <http://blog.nola.com/saintsbeat/2009/01/gregg_williams_hired_as_new_or_1.html>.
 NFL Statement
 Book of Matthew Chapter 7 Verse 12.
 Johnson, Robert, “Kant’s Moral Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/kant-moral/>.
 Kant’s Moral Philosophy