At the end of the 1992 Western “Unforgiven,” a young gunslinger reflects about shooting another outlaw dead. “Yeah, well, I guess he had it comin’,” he finally rationalizes. Clint Eastwood stares back coldly and replies, “We all got it comin’, kid.”
Bountygate has about as many redeeming characters today. Roughly none. After Roger Goodell handed down staggering penalties to coaches and officials involved in the New Orleans Saints’ three-year program that paid players for essentially taking out their peers, the difference between a film about the lawless West and the NFL’s lawless secret society is that Goodell and the owners have yet to get theirs.
Really, when does the NFL get what it has coming: a long, hard look at how one man and one team became scapegoats for this car-accident-in-pads-and-helmet league?
Gregg Williams, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and the Saints got what they deserved Wednesday. In a league that already sanctions violence, they needlessly upped the ante.
But that’s where the punitive measures stop and the spin begins. You want us to believe Williams was the only culprit, league-wide? The only coach to offer money to his players to hurt their peers? And that he only did it when he coached in New Orleans?
And if the NFL is so worried about paying millions to at least a dozen former players suing the league over its failure to protect them, where was the outrage two years ago when all the NFL did was warn the Saints about their bounty practices during the investigation? That it took the cover-up to enrage Goodell and make him slam his gavel down — not the actual discovery of a pay-for-pain program — says everything about a league that wants it both ways.
Williams, who was suspended indefinitely for leading the bounty program, now becomes to Goodell what Tim Donaghy was to NBA Commissioner David Stern following allegations Donaghy bet on games he officiated. He is the example to every other crooked cop who is caught, a nice, tidy summation of the problem — dealt with severely, said to have acted alone.
In fact, reports of similar bounty systems by Williams in his former coaching haunts — Washington, Buffalo and Tennessee — have apparently been discounted by the NFL, which took two years to investigate the Saints and, oh, three incredibly thorough weeks to determine nothing of the malicious-intent-to-hurt sort occurred elsewhere.
Look, nine former Redskins — including two on the record — told The Post earlier this month there was a pay-for-performance system when Williams coached in Washington from 2004-2007, one that included extra money for “kill shots.”
Matt Bowen, who played safety for the Redskins under Williams, wrote descriptively in the Chicago Tribune of Williams naming opposing stars who needed to be taken out. While lineman Phillip Daniels was clear about the fact “there was no bounty system where we supposed to break a guy’s neck or anything” he also said he got $1,500 for sacks registered against Dallas in 2005. Former Bills players were quoted saying they had a similar program.
Several of the same players who privately told The Post about a much more informal program than New Orleans — but still one in which, as one put it, “if you knocked a guy out of the game, he hooked you up a little bit” — have subsequently been quoted publicly saying no program existed.
I finally got one to admit the truth: “I don’t want to be called a snitch and hurt my team; they’re talking about taking away draft picks,” he said. “You get a worse name for that than you do being the guy who got money for putting a cat out on a stretcher.”
Think about that. It’s worse for an NFL player being a whistle blower, turning in a guy trying to end careers, than it is to carry out a bounty and possibly end a career.
Bill Romanowski is one of several warped muscleheads who have taken to social media about pro football’s code, one in which snitches presumably get stitches. “Maybe there should be a bounty on members of the league who have buried data on brain injuries for years #hypocrisy” he tweeted Wednesday.
Maybe the NFLPA should stop warning fans about savaging their players on Twitter and shut down the accounts of their past and present members who actively dissuade a culture change.
This is not Sam Huff’s or Dick Butkus’s NFL. It’s not even Lawrence Taylor’s NFL. It’s a league of points and spread offenses, of fantasy leagues full of offensive stars who net the league and their partners millions.
The NFL today cannot stomach its skill players being taken out for money. Not for business reasons, not for safety reasons, not for the future of the game. Because for all the grandstanding about safety-first and protecting the players, Goodell knows more than anyone: If fewer players go down, the more an 18-game season is possible. The profit windfall grows, the lawsuits stop and everybody is happy.
If Goodell can walk that fine line between celebrating the hard-hitters and condemning the headhunters, he can make more money for his owners behind the cloak of caring deeply for his players.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.
Benson, Payton meet with NFL officials (March 12)