The Washington Times Daily - - Sports -

across your mind’s eye.

Part of the prob­lem re­sides in the sport it­self. Foot­ball re­quires par­tic­i­pants to sus­pend con­ven­tional wis­dom about self-preser­va­tion, namely that you shouldn’t run into other hu­man be­ings at full speed, and cer­tainly not re­peat­edly. Those who mas­ter the art can earn col­lege schol­ar­ships be­fore pro­ceed­ing to pro ca­reers and fat pay­checks.

De­fen­sive play­ers on the Saints and other teams are paid to hit of­ten and hit hard, in hopes of sep­a­rat­ing op­po­nents from the ball. If op­po­nents are sep­a­rated from their senses as well, that comes with the ter­ri­tory. As long as it’s done cleanly, within the rules and spirit of the game, there’s noth­ing wrong.

For in­stance, take the play in which former Ari­zona quar­ter­back Kurt Warner was blasted by former Saints de­fen­sive end Bobby Mccray in a 2010 play­off game.

Mccray un­loaded on an un­sus­pect­ing Warner, who broke the car­di­nal rule of keep­ing one’s head on a swivel dur­ing in­ter­cep­tion re­turns. The hit was vi­cious, but clean, and es­sen­tially sent Warner into re­tire­ment.

Which brings us to the irony, con­tra­dic­tions and fine line be­tween boun­ties, game balls and big hits.

If Warner pops up, seem­ingly unaf­fected, and con­tin­ues to play, McCray ac­cepts hearty con­grat­u­la­tions from team­mates. Coach Sean Pay­ton might men­tion Mccray dur­ing the postgame speech in the locker room and award him a game ball.

But Warner lay there, dazed and confused, which au­to­mat­i­cally short­cir­cuits cel­e­bra­tions by the de­fen­sive play­ers. They typ­i­cally want to “hurt” op­po­nents, as in mak­ing them feel it when they’re hit, but not re­ally “hurt” them, as in leav­ing them with a se­ri­ous in­jury.

How­ever, now that we’ve learned of the Saints’ “bounty pro­gram,” in which play­ers al­legedly re­ceived $1,500 for “knock­outs” and $1,000 for “cart-offs,” with pay­outs dou­bling or tripling dur­ing the play­offs, McCray’s hit looks ques­tion­able.

Was he just mak­ing a clean, hard foot­ball play? Or was he in­ten­tion­ally try­ing to force Warner from the game?

As in other fields and sit­u­a­tions, the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict of in­ter­est is as bad as an ac­tual con­flict of in­ter­est. That’s why the NFL pro­hibits boun­ties/bonuses, even though they ar­guably have lit­tle im­pact on game re­sults or in­jury rates.

“Try­ing to leg­is­late in­tent is very, very hard,” former Bal­ti­more coach Brian Bil­lick said Tues­day on The Herd With Colin Cowherd. “But clearly, the com­mis­sioner wants to shoot that shot over the bow and make sure ev­ery­one knows the league is watch­ing and not go­ing to let it hap­pen.”

Play­ers within teams al­ways have found ways to mo­ti­vate and re­ward each other for sig­nif­i­cant plays such as big hits or turnovers. If the big hit caused a player to exit the game or be re­moved on a stretcher, so be it.

But faced with a slew of law­suits as it makes a push to in­crease player safety, the NFL can’t sanc­tion a sys­tem that specif­i­cally re­wards knock­outs and cart-offs.

You might call that se­man­tics, but I call it com­mon sense.

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