Naturally and expectedly, there’s a group out there that is defending the Saints in the bounty scandal. Unsurprisingly, many of these defenders are Saints fans and/or residents of the 504. And while such tactics are really just an epitomizing example of classic homerism, they do raise legitimate points:

1. Football is inherently violent and players are indirectly compensated for removing opposing players from games by way of being paid to hit, and hit hard.

2. Teams undoubtedly see their chances of winning increase when an opposing player is injured and forced to either not play at all or play at less than 100 percent.

3. Bounties have existed below the surface for as long as football has been played, and surely exist in other NFL locker rooms.

As Bruce Nolan writes for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, local fans generally believe that “this is a case in which the Saints are just unluckier than other teams, not dirtier.”

The difference, of course, is that the Saints got caught. Fine.

But this isn’t 1989, when we all had a good, hearty laugh as Eagles coach Buddy Ryan placed bounties on members of the Cowboys. It’s 2012, and so much has changed. We’ve seen the devastating effects of concussions, and we now see a league that is proactively and aggressively trying to curb traumatic, life-altering injuries

The single biggest threat to the NFL’s reign atop the North American professional sports hierarchy? Injuries — particularly head injuries — and the image fashioned by the long-term effects of those injuries. As a result, there’s nothing commissioner Roger Goodell crusades against with more ferocity than that.

And thus — outside of game fixing — I can’t imagine a more serious crime than this one, at least in NFL circles.

The league has probably been clued into bounty programs for years, but the sloppy and ignorant Saints flaunted it enough to get caught, and now they’re the poster boys. Now, they’re being made an example of.

And as a result of forthcoming discipline, I’d imagine that the example will serve to stop or at least slow the degree to which illegal pay-for-performance programs are implemented across the NFL.