Today, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the punishments being handed out to the New Orleans Saints and their coaching staff for a bounty program in place from 2009 to 2011. During this time, Saints players were offered cash bonuses for injuring star players from other teams. They were given rewards for possibly ending the careers of their opponents.
In a strong, harsh response to the scandal, the league suspended head coach Sean Payton for a year without pay. They suspended the former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who coordinated the bounty system, indefinitely. The took away the Saints second round draft picks for the next time years (the team had already traded away their first round picks). And of course, they handed out a whole lot of fines. Really, it was a whole lot of punishment.
As a fan, I’m happy to see that the league took their players’ safety seriously and addressed this problem firmly. I enjoy football, and the idea of rewarding a player for injuring someone makes me literally sick to my stomach.
But when I think about this scandal and its outcome in the business world, the ethics of the matter get a little blurry. In fact, the more I think about it, the more the Saints sound like plenty of successful companies I’ve worked for.
Here’s just one example. A couple months ago, my former employer had me prepare a sales incentive targeted at stealing away our competitors draught beer in local bars and restaurants. Every time you replaced competition’s keg with one of our’s, you received a bonus. Pretty straight-forward and widely recognizable incentive, right?
What if I told you that one of the sales people from our competitors company lost their job because their draught percentage went too low? Technically, that would mean that my company gave bonuses to put another person out of work. But all of us would be okay with that. It would be the competitors fault for failing at their job.
When it’s just bottom lines and profit margins or even salaries and bonuses, this whole bounty system is pretty much business-as-usual. It’s when we start talking about injuries and health people get upset. And rightly so. But there’s still that nagging feeling that the Saints bounty system was just a sales incentive on steroids. After all, football players deal in terms of physical capability, not profits or revenue. By targeting their opponents health, they were attacking the competition in the most effective way they knew how.
The reactions from NFL players and coaches around the league have shown the mixed feelings that this scandal brings to light. Some players were downright dismissive, acting like bounty systems were just a part of the game. Shawne Merriman, linebacker for the Buffalo Bills tweeted, “Why is this a big deal now? Bounties been going on forever. A ‘Bounty’ left me with a torn PCL and LCL in my knee …” Ryan Clark, safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers was more upset at whoever blew the whistle on the program, instead of those who instituted it, “Whoever is snitching on the Saints D should be ashamed of themselves. No one was talking about the ‘bounty’ when they got paid. #shame!”
This scandal has shocked the sports world and led to some unprecedented punishments, but I wonder if it will make corporate America rethink the way we foster competition and target our opponents? Somehow, I don’t think even the National Football League has that much clout.
(Photo: Washington Post)