Like steroids in baseball, bounties in NFL no longer good for business

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Eventually the bounty story had to come around to this, and given the amount of speech and typing devoted to it, it's a surprise it didn't get there before now.

Bounties are steroids. There.

Now while you feverishly concoct reasons in your own heads why this cannot be so, allow me to elucidate.

Bounties were fine, part of the game, a triumph of camaraderie, team-building and mayhem that appeals to every football player. It was just part of the price of doing business, and in a lawless frontier, everybody either accepted it as such or kept quiet to avoid being ostracized.

Steroids were fine, the magic elixir that many if not most baseball players dabbled in to see if they could become bigger, stronger, faster and healthier. Many did, and the game thrived because homers were more plentiful, pitchers threw harder and fans found more disposable income to throw toward the business. It was just part of the price of doing business, and in an amoral environment, everybody either accepted it as such or kept quiet because it was nobody's business.

Then rules changed, precedents were overturned, things that were accepted were suddenly rejected. And nobody knew what was good and what was bad any more.

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Well, they did know. Bounties are a bad idea, in that the mayhem that often ensued created injuries that will come back to become lawsuits later in life. Performance-enhancing drugs are in many ways tools of the felonious, whether it is through their acquisition, administration or distribution.

They just didn't care. It was harmless fun and good business. Now it isn't. And people cannot figure out how it went from the one to the other.

Not that it matters, really, but the answer is that they went from helping make the product better and more lucrative to worse and less lucrative -- in the one case because bounties will attract potential plaintiffs, defendants and lawyers, and because PEDs created shame, public outrage and lawyers.

Now figure out the common denominator. Yes, it's potential loss of esteem and, worse, money.

That's why the rules changed. The real rules, the ones that everyone in the game understood they all were following. Oh, both bounties and PEDs were against actual rules, but they were both fine under the practical rules, which are the rules that were actually enforced.

The NFL didn't care about bounties, and baseball didn't care about PEDs until the corporate offices decided they needed to, and the rule-breakers who didn't realize the rules they were breaking had any consequences now were told that there would be consequences after all.

It felt to baseball players, and it feels to football players now, like bait and switch, like the parents getting mad at the kids for behavior that they tacitly approved of five minutes earlier.

It also felt to baseball management, and it feels to football management now, like the parents finally deciding to apply a bit of badly needed discipline to unruly kids who will do anything they can get away with it.

That's why bounties are the new steroids.

Oh, and there's one other reason. Enforcing bounty rules are as hopeless a task as enforcing PED guidelines. Anyone who is even mildly careful will still break the rules, because there aren't enough authority figures to follow all the players and coaches wherever they go, or to listen to everything they say. Both Roger Goodell and Bud Selig can talk about their superior enforcement techniques all they want, but a crafty employee can beat them with their frontal lobes tied behind their backs.

So the fallback position for both Goodell and Selig with their respective issues really boils down to this:

"Don't make us catch you, because we don't want to have to explain to those nosy reporters or Congress or lawyers why the hell we didn't have a handle on it. We're not doing this for any high-minded or ethical reason, we're doing it because having to pretend to oppose it is a giant pain in the behind, and we've got better things to do with our days.

"Like count the money we get every day from all the fans who would rather have the damaged game than the clean one, but want the right to posture about wanting the clean one. Hey, they've got their hypocrisies, we've got ours."

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com).

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