[Sometimes, I find something so interesting that I discuss it in my blog, even though it’s not directly related to teaching. Then again, I teach sports marketing law, so arguably this article fits into all those categories!]
To Cheat or Not To Cheat: Apparently That’s Not a Question
As football fans, we’ve heard rumors that this happens: that players are paid a bonus for knocking other players out of the game.
I’ve always believed that that’s what happened to Rich Gannon, former quarterback for the Raiders. His “attacker” nicknamed “Goose” at the time, is now a commentator for FOX Sports. Pleasant enough, but I still look askance at him every time I see and hear one of his reports. Each time I hear Goose, I mean Tony, report, I wonder how much he was paid to land Gannon’s game- (and career-) ending injury. And to top it all off, Gannon’s injury was the beginning of a long, dry spell filled with a vast number of losses. Diehard Raiders fans know what I mean.
So, now a new story breaks. The story is that many players and teams had bounties paid for knocking out opponents. According to the linked article and other sources, the Saint’s defensive players set up a pool that paid a bounty depending on whether the player was knocked out ($1500) or carted off ($1000). Apparently the Redskins, Bills and Titans [and perhaps the 2001 Ravens-the team for which Goose played when….well you know!) had similar schemes. Mind you, none of those teams in this paragraph [except the 2001 Ravens] have won a Superbowl in, well, forever. Maybe that’s why they may have participated in this scheme. In the other hand, the Saints won a Superbowl recently, so maybe they participated in desperation to win again, soon and not fall into the post-Superbowl slump.
Football is a rough sport. That’s the fun of it for the fans (and I assume for the players). I am softie and completely pain averse-I don’t like causing or being the recipient of painful…anything. Yet on Sundays I’m there with other Raiders fans (who are not known for their kindness or tolerance) wanting to see players play their hardest. And hopefully win.
But this is different.
There’s winning according to the rules of the game and winning at all costs. A team could win a game by shooting the players of the opposing team.
A team and its players could increase its chances of winning by putting rocks in their gloves or elbow pads or knee pads and tackling hard. A team could increase its chances of winning by bribing a referee (Oh, wait a minute, that’s basketball!). A team could increase its chances of winning by videotaping opposing teams’ hand signals (that’s football, and Superbowl winners, too). Winning at all costs is NOT what I want to see. I want to see a fairly fought contest that results in the “better” team winning.
But the legal issue is whether these kinds of hits, motivated by receiving a bounty, constitute hits outside the rules of the game. Are these hits are so far outside the rules that the perpetrators should face criminal and civil liability? In the examples I gave earlier: shooting players, placing rocks in their gloves and pads, it’s easy to say that there should be criminal and civil liability to the perpetrators.
The conduct in the examples is so far outside the rules that it is easy to argue that there should be liability: that the perpetrators should be prosecuted and face jail time AND that the perpetrators should face civil (tort) liability and pay damages, including punitive damages, to the victims.
But what about the conduct in the current scandal? Does the additional motive (receiving the bonus) mean that the players who participated should face criminal liability? Or should they face civil liability? Or both? Or neither?
This is my take.
Remedies Against the Players
No jail time. The additional incentive is barely distinguishable from other incentives: players’ regular pay, additional pay for reaching the playoffs and the Superbowl. In 2009, Players’ median salary ranges from a low of nearly $540,000. $1500 is less than 1% of their salaries or $150 if your salary is $54000 per year. Motive is not an element of a crime, but prosecutors’ often look at motive to convince juries that a person’s conduct was unacceptable.
Payment of Damages. Yes, the players’ involved should have to pay civil damages (not just a NFL fine) that include payment of all medical expenses (to the insurance companies if appropriate), lost wages and pain and suffering. And those players should have to pay punitive damages. I’d recommend a set multiplier, e.g. 10 times the compensatory damages.
Ejection from the league. Yes, those players who caused more serious damage that resulted in a player not being able to play again. [Maybe this is my Gannon-revenge rearing its head again.] I would argue an “eye for an eye” but the idea is that if the activity had that consequence, players should be liable for it.
Remedies Against the Teams
Let’s buttress the fines that teams pay so that it hurts them to engage in this conduct. No slap on the wrist and a new, lucrative coaching contract for breaking the rules. Remove teams from the playoffs if the team has more than 2 players who participated and the victims were carted off or knocked out. Remove their playoff wins if the team has more than 4 or 5 players who participated and the victims were carted off or knocked out.
Make the price for the team so high that the team owners, coaches and players don’t engage in this kind of conduct.