I hesitate to speak of Bountygate during draft week, because unless Roger Goodell mercifully announces the punishments for the players involved, I’m quite content to let the blackest eye of this offseason fade while we dip our wooden spoon into the cauldron of draft speculation and stir it around a little more.
The draft feels like it’s about just a group of young players, and primarily it is. But those three days in late April also function as a state of the franchise address…for every franchise. We poke, prod, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and project the likelihood of a championship landing in each NFL city either now, or in the near future.
So yes, this week is about the future, which makes the continued reflection on an act of idiocy and arrogance in New Orleans feel wasteful. But Hunter Hillenmeyer has forced our hand with his prose and perspective.
The retired linebacker who spent eight years with the Bears now has his own blog at Chicagoside called “The Rush of Battle.” While reflecting on the Bountygate scandal from his perspective as a recently retired player, Hillenmeyer made the comparison between football and war, which he admitted was at best a lazy, boring cliché, and at worst an insult to those who participate in actual war; you know, the kind with real bullets and real death.
But the mistake often made by those who hear or read that analogy and become offended is to think that players are comparing what they do on a football field to what a solider does in battle. That couldn’t be further from the truth unless you’re Kellen Winslow Jr., as instead the comparison lies in the mentality.
Intensity becomes more than just a game face, it’s a way of life for football players, especially those on the defensive side of the ball. And consequently, as Hellenmeyer writes, for the audience “violence is not just a part of football, it’s a huge part of the allure of football.”
There’s something basic, something visceral about the mindset of a pro athlete. I still get chill bumps when I hear the National Anthem. It’s not because I’m particularly patriotic; it’s because there’s something Pavlovian that tells my mind and body to get ready for battle, because for 16 years that anthem sounded right before every football game I played.
I’ve never been offered money to injure a player, but I’ve injured players, anyway. I broke DeShaun Foster’s ankle in one playoff game against the Panthers and injured Deuce McAllister (I think it was a knee) in another against the Saints. I had no intent to cause harm, but how do you hit someone with every ounce of violence you can muster and say you had no bad intentions?
In the locker room before a game, an NFL player psyches himself for battle. Head down, music blaring, you focus on the enemy at hand. You prepare to impose your will. You know they’re doing the same. You convince yourself that you’re a gladiator about to enter the arena. Violence and aggression are as central to the game as running and catching.
Hillenmeyer added that in effect, all NFL salaries are bounties, and his reaction to the Saints’ bounties was a complete lack of surprise. What’s particularly interesting is that Hillenmeyer was inspired to share his perspective after seeing the Hunger Games, saying that as he walked out of the theater he wondered how future generations will view the violence in football, and the toll it takes on players.
The answer? We’ll still be cheering massive hits, because we’re warm-blooded beings. But we still won’t like it if one man or a group of men are arrogant enough to continue a bounty program for three years. Hillenmeyer is perfectly correct in his assessment of the athlete’s state of mind, but there’s a rigid line drawn at openly pushing to injure an opponent, and then rewarding success.
And now you want to know the rest of the story…
- Devang will dig deeper into the muddled mess that is today’s draft rumors a little later on this morning in his daily roundup as we sit about 82 hours away from the first round. But for now, just know this: the widespread Ryan Tannehill projections will still induce a throbbing headache. [Peter King's MMQB]
- King also wrote that if the Vikings pass on Matt Kalil at No. 3, the best offensive line prospect in the draft could fall all the way to No. 10. That’s understandably made Bills fans rather giddy. [Buffalo Rumblings]
- Hey look, Bills fans, here’s more great news to create false hope: Shawne Merriman may actually do something productive sometime soon. [Buffalobills.com]
- Robert Griffin III trolled the hell out of Todd McShay. [D.C. Sports Bog]
- The Vikings have successfully created confusion. [Gregg Rosenthal]
- If Minnesota does pass on Kalil, it’ll be because Leslie Frasier thinks that a left tackle isn’t a game changer, and when you’re drafting in the top three, you take game changers. [Music City Miracles]
- The Eagles need to select another Reggie White. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
- The Cowboys’ interest in a defensive back goes beyond Mark Barron, as they’ve hosted 17 DBs in pre-draft visits. It’s easy to see why the focus in Dallas is on the defensive backfield when we look at the “big play” statistics for the last few years. [Blogging the Boys]
- Yeremiah Bell is visiting the Jets today. [Jason La Canfora on Twitter]
- The competition for the hottest girlfriend in the NFC North is getting pretty fierce. [Total Packers]
- Would you like to watch a video of Broncos cheerleaders talking about how hard auditions are? Don’t feel guilty, just click. [Denver Post]