Football is a very violent game, particularly at the professional level. Serious injuries are an occupational hazard. Those who ultimately play in the NFL all understand the risks they are taking.
But the bounty program run by a New Orleans Saints' assistant coach in which players were paid to seriously injure their opponent was not something that could be anticipated. It is also something that cannot be tolerated.
So when NFL officials discovered the bounty program, which had been going on and targeted Brett Favre and other high-profile players, they had no choice but to take it seriously. Yet, most folks figured NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell would talk tough but hand out a couple of $100,000 fines -- loose change in comparison to mega-millions NFL teams make annually.
Well, Goodell surprised everyone Thursday when he hit the Saints harder than the team's defense players ever hit any opposing quarterback. It's a punishment that is justified and welcome.
He suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton without pay for all of next season and indefinitely banned from football the team's former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who was the mastermind of the bounty program. Williams was working for the St. Louis Rams, but might never work in the NFL again.
Goodell also banned Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season, and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games. In addition, the Saints as an organization were fined $500,000 and lost their second-round draft picks this year and next year.
More punishment could be on the way for individual players involved. If so, it should be just as harsh.
Pro players need to understand that Gooddell is serious about putting an end to bounties. It is also important for children and teenagers -- those playing youth football and high school football -- to get a clear message that bounty programs would not be tolerated so they will not consider copying what the Saints did.
If the NCAA was as swift and clear with its punishments, particularly when focused on coaches and their pay checks, rule violations would diminish significantly.
The hope is Goodell's knock-out shot will end deliberate attempts to put other players out of the game at all levels of football.