There is no morality in war—but that doesn’t stop our political and military leaders from insisting otherwise. Invariably, the enemy consists of immoral, medieval cave dwellers who respect neither human life nor the sacred rules of combat. Our side, on the other hand, engages in “surgical strikes” to limit “collateral damage” in a noble effort to liberate the shackled from tyranny. They tell us to ignore the innocent killed in drone attacks, the piling body counts, and just remember that our enemies are savages because they don’t play by civilized rules.
This Orwellian staple came to mind when news broke of the NFL’s latest public relations debacle: that the New Orleans Saints defense targeted opponents with a “bounty” system. Normally we should have little patience with comparing the reality of war to a game like football. But here the metaphor works because we have that same heightened hypocrisy where the overlords of official violence condemn the carnage outside of their control.
Because former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams instituted this “bounty program” that allegedly involved paying players for “knockout” or “cart-off” hits, the Saints will face an avalanche of suspensions, fines and penalties. The players involved and Coach Williams might, according to Sports Illustrated, even be liable for criminal prosecution. They will also have to carry the shame of “all that’s wrong with sports” as columnists try to out-fulminate their competitors. [There are so many overwrought words to choose from, but the winner of the Scarlett O’Hara Award has to go to Bill Plaschke for calling these matters “sanctioned evil.”]
The NFL is of course, aghast and appalled. In the words of Commissioner Roger Goodell, “The [anti-]bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.”
And here we have the problem.
This is the same Roger Goodell who once employed a league doctor that denied a connection between football and concussions.
This is the same Goodell whose sport sees its retired players die decades before the typical American male; whose employees face patterns of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and suicidal depression.
This is the same Goodell whose sport saw former Chicago Bear great Dave Duerson, crippled by mental illness, end his life by shooting himself in the chest. Why the chest? He wanted his brain studied so the world would know what professional football did to him.
This is the same Goodell who almost cancelled the entire 2011 season because he wanted the players to have to endure two more games. More games means more money, health be damned. In other words, Roger Goodell isn’t exactly Gandhi here. He’s more like General Westmoreland, insisting that all is moving in the right direction while napalm stings the nose.