If you ever played football, or even if you didn't, you might have reacted the same as me when the NFL's "Bountygate" fiasco first started hitting the sports pages.
A shrug and a wink. Boys will be boys. Hey, a little harmless fun. They've always done this, it just wasn't publicized. That sort of thing. To be honest, the first thing I thought of was watching the old TV show "Wanted: Dead or Alive" starring Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.
But, we aren't boys anymore, are we?
When we were, we looked up to these guys and that is one one of the most infuriating aspects about "Bountygate:" The questions of the effect bounty hunting will have on youth football. These are kids who snap up everything they see or read about their NFL role models, including jerseys, wrist bands, helmets and attitude.
Early Depression and Dementia
As an allegedly responsible adult, you start thinking about all those studies involving retired NFL players and early dementia, those studies you tried to avoid because you were such a fan of the game. It gets harder to ignore when sporadic accounts of tragic suicides keep showing up in the news, like Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling. All related to depression and dementia and accumulated brain trauma.
And now this.
Bountygate, of course, refers to the slush fund that players and coaches for the New Orleans Saints were involved in, doling out bounty money for "taking out" certain opposing players, usually the stars.
How do you "take out" an opposing player? There's only one way, assuming you can't fake a subpoena or send an engraved invitation from the Queen of England. You ring his bell. You knock him senseless. You hurt him.
"Unsportsmanlike" doesn't even begin to describe it. It is a thuggish, borderline criminal thing to do in the first place. But, on top of all the recent research on the relationship between playing in the NFL and dying early due to horrible ailments like Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's Disease, it seems so much worse.
Most people who follow the NFL know now that studies show about one third of retired football players will suffer cognitive damage, and many of them will end up with serious dementia. That often brings about depression and, as we have seen in some cases, suicide.
Now, researchers are saying athletes don't necessarily have to suffer concussions to have those sorts of lasting effects. The accumulation of head and body shots is enough to cause debilitating brain changes.
Also, concussions don't necessarily have to be caused by a single, violent blow as previously believed; they can be caused by lesser blows over time, or even by body shots that rattle the brain around in the skull.
And now we find out these bounty hunters want to be paid for causing that kind of carnage.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has rightfully handed out some of the harshest sanctions in the history of the league, which are being legally challenged in the courts, of course. I'd like to think Goodell has the health of the league and its players in mind, but the cynic wonders if he isn't thinking about the hundreds of lawsuits filed against the NFL, alleging negligence, fraud and concealment of brain trauma brought on by vicious hits.
Remember that Goodell was hauled before Congress about three years ago, and criticized for what he and the league were failing to do with current and former players with head injuries.
Pee-Wee Slush Fund?
What was not criticized was the potentially profound effect bounty hunting could have on those who look up to and emulate their role models.
A scientist involved in one of the studies on the more subtle effects of brain trauma, said that when it comes to long-term, overall health, playing contact sports was a "very small risk" for high school athletes.
Yeah, until they start putting bounties on each other.