Simon Says! NPR Saturday Host Rips ‘Violent Enterprise’ of Pro Football

Weekend Edition Saturday is a “news” program, but anchorman Scott Simon can uncork an occasional liberal commentary called “Simon Says.” On the Saturday before the Super Bowl, Simon ripped pro football as a violent game, chiding the NFL for basically abusing its labor force.

The occasion was the Denver Broncos hiring Sean Payton as its head coach. Payton was a successful head coach for the New Orleans Saints from 2006 to 2021, leading the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory during the 2009 season. Simon editorialized that Payton was never punished enough for the “Bountygate” scandal back in 2012, when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams instituted a “bounty” system for injuring the other team’s offensive players.

SIMON: He becomes the Broncos coach at the end of a football season in which even more attention has been drawn to the toll the game can inflict on players, especially after Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety, suffered a cardiac arrest after a tackle last month. Mr. Hamlin appeared at the NFL honors ceremony this week and spoke of how grateful he feels to be alive. Sean Payton won seven division titles with New Orleans, as well as their Super Bowl. He was 2006 NFL coach of the year. But he was suspended by the NFL for the 2012 season over what became known as Bountygate. 

An NFL investigation found more than 20 Saints players set up cash bounties to entice teammates to intentionally injure opposing players so painfully and seriously, they’d be taken out of the game. A thousand cash was the typical payoff if a player was carted off the field on a stretcher, $1,500 if the player was knocked out. The numbers went up for more key players in playoff games. Pro football is a violent enterprise, but offering players cash bounties to injure other players is still against the rules.

Sean Payton was not accused of orchestrating the scheme or offering his own cash prizes. But the NFL’s investigation found he did not stop the bounties when he learned about them or end the payoffs when so ordered by his team’s owner. In fact, the NFL found that as the investigation deepened, Sean Payton had advised assistant coaches, make sure our ducks are in a row.

Simon noted that Payton was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season and lost $8 million in salary, but somehow you’d have to guess Simon thought he should have been banned from the game forever. He closed in a huff: 

SIMON: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told a press conference this week that injuries in the NFL have been down 6% this year. But if you watch the Super Bowl tomorrow — and despite many misgivings, I mayyou might consider Sean Peyton’s pricey new contract and wonder if it means the NFL has moved much beyond seeing the breaks, sprains and concussions of its own players as being just part of the game.

Cynicism about sports and implying some racial animus is all in the NPR formula.

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