Professional sports is probably at its most pathetic when it attempts to police itself. The first big scandal occurred in 1919, when several Chicago White Sox players agreed to intentionally play poorly in the World Series—based on bribes from gangster Arnold Rothstein.
Since the White Sox were overwhelming favorites, the fix was in for gamblers who would bet on the Cincinnati Reds. Of course, the seeds for such corruption had been planted by Major League Baseball itself in that White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was notorious for underpaying his players, and even cheating them out of bonuses by refusing to play them when they would be close to achieving contract bonus milestones. Given Baseball’s reserve clause, the players either took the salary that was offered, or they couldn’t play at all, and that included all other teams.
The participating players in the Black Sox affair were banned for life, but I guess the scandal did not mean that much to MLB, since the Reds are still listed as the winners of that series (with no asterisk), which, incidentally went on for nine games—to increase revenue. Somehow, statistics-obsessed baseball purists missed that one.
Moving closer to the present, many sports have been “plagued” by issues resulting from the use of performance-enhancing substances. However, no rational case has ever been made as to why this is a problem. These athletes are professionals, and should be allowed to train and enhance their bodies any way they see fit.
Regarding the current NFL bounty scandal, whom does the league and the media think they’re kidding? Most NFL players have clauses in their contracts whereby they get bonuses for reaching performance milestones. Defensive players are taught—from the first time they take the field—to hit and to hit hard. That is simply how the game is played, and that’s what the fans and the TV networks expect.
No NFL defensive player was more feared than safety Jack Tatum, of the Oakland Raiders. Among other honors, Tatum was chosen for the Pro Bowl three straight years (1973-1975). He was recognized as a hard hitter by sportswriters in his very first pro game, and his reputation only grew from there. He is perhaps best remembered for his hit on New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley, in a preseason game in 1978, that paralyzed Stingley from the chest down for the rest of his life.
At the time, it was considered a clean, legal hit, although Stingley was in an awkward position, and that particular play had been called repeatedly, all but assuring that the defenders would be ready to stop it—big time. The league did little to shield Tatum from the ensuing bad press, despite their marketing him for years as “The Assassin.”
Inasmuch as football is a game of collisions, and now involves players bigger and faster than ever before, the only way to mitigate injuries is by rule, and not by going after bounty systems, which probably exist on all teams. There is nothing healthy about having one’s body take the sort of abuse that football dishes out, and most NFL players—including Tatum, who died in poor health at age 61—do not achieve great longevity.
They make their choice to play the game, earn the money and the glory, and take the consequences. So, please, spare us the phony moralizing regarding these bounties.