It’s part of the game, right? Football players tackle each other, cheered on by their coaches and fans, including some of the most passionate in the sport here in New York. But at all levels of the game there is risk of injury, and limits on tackling are set by the rules of football and the principles of sportsmanship.
Now the National Football League is reeling from the discovery of an outrageous “pay-for-pain” bounty system used by the New Orleans Saints. The Saints apparently paid defensive players bonuses for taking out opponents with deliberately excessive, injury-causing hits.
The uproar over this manifestly unfair practice comes at a time when public awareness of the danger of sports concussions is rising. When the bounty scheme was exposed, almost 400 former players were already trying to sue the NFL for negligence, seeking to be compensated for head injuries they received while playing. In a previous case from 1973, a federal appellate court held that a football player can be held responsible for injuries that occur while playing if the act is done with “reckless disregard for the opponent’s safety.”
The injured players, like all current and former players, signed on to a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL that forbids them from filing lawsuits in court and dictates that they must use arbitration instead. The players, though, claim that the NFL lied to them about the medical consequences of multiple concussions.
The NFL’s fraudulent behavior, they say, means the players are not bound by the agreement and can proceed with their lawsuits, just like other professional, collegiate or amateur athletes dealing with injuries caused by another’s reckless actions. Now the existence of the pay-for-pain arrangement lends fuel to the pros’ fire. Players who can show their injuries were caused by the unsportsmanlike big hits have extra leverage to use in arguing for the right to sue in court.
Source: NPR, “Alleged Saints Bounty Program Could Lead To Legal Troubles For NFL,” Mar. 22, 2012.