The NFL Will Happily Pretend A Bounty Is The Worst Scandal Ever

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Today, Gregg Williams has his heart weighed by Anubis. Williams is in New York to meet with Roger Goodell in the NFL's impenetrable Park Avenue fortress, but Goodell isn't alone. He's accompanied by Jeff Miller and Joe Hummel, the heads of the NFL's investigative and security teams, and I don't know what those gentlemen look like, but I'm pretty sure they're hulking men in trenchcoats and fedoras who loom at Goodell's flank, and know 37 ways to break a human kneecap. Even more intimidating, the NFL's top lawyer Jeff Pash will be there, recording every denial or self-incrimination.

Basically, Williams is pooping himself. And with good reason. The scuttlebutt has "severe, sweeping" penalties in play, with Williams's name being singled out. At least one hyperbolic columnist is stirring up the prospect of jail time. That's insanity and inanity, but Williams is undoubtedly going to take the fall for an NFL hell-bent on showing it's serious about player safety.


Fine. Make him a sacrificial Ram, hit him with a lengthy suspension for being dumb enough to give the imprimatur of management to a bounty system that seems fairly common around the league, and dumb enough to do it on at least three separate teams. But don't pretend the near-death penalty will be anything more than a PR move, because as far as bombshells go, a locker room bounty is barely a blip on the NFL's early-warning radar.


Goodell made reference to "competitive integrity," but that's just not applicable here. The NFL is and should be concerned with the integrity of its games, if only for the integrity of the shadow economy that makes football the country's most popular sport—the tens of billions of dollars wagered in Las Vegas and online every year.

The bettor's biggest fear is that there exists information that could alter the outcome of the game, and he's not privy to it. The sports book's biggest fear is that team has an undisclosed advantage, which would affect the line and cost them millions. This is the sole reason injury reports exist.

A bounty is not a competitive imbalance. Rewarding big hits does nothing outside the rules to alter the equilibrium of a game. If you want a scandal that did give one side an appreciable, illegal, clandestine competitive advantage, you need only go back five years, and it resulted in the largest fine ever given to a coach in the NFL's history.

Bountygate is not Spygate. It did not give the Saints a leg up, any more than "remember me" hits give every team a leg up. The NFL is not measurably less fair for the bounty's existence, nor does Vegas have cause to doubt its science. And yet, the league is going to come down hard on Williams, and on the Saints, much harder than they did on the Patriots. Part of that is how damaging to "competitive integrity" Spygate actually was, and wanting to put it out of mind as soon as possible. (Remember how quickly the league destroyed the videotapes?) The rest is good old-fashioned public relations. Goodell has an example to show how proactive the league is on player safety, and he's more than willing to let the media worry the bone of a scandal that isn't particularly scandalous.