Bounty Gate. Scandal. Illegal. Name it what you will, the charges against the New Orleans Saints of the National Footbal League represent a new low for professional sports, and are perhaps more an indication of how western societies have grown careless of standards that once characterized our public attitudes.
The team has been charged with paying "bounties" to any of its players who targeted and inflicted serious injuries on opposing teams. The abuse ran throughout much of the Saints' organization, and eventually resulted in a series of severe suspensions for coaches (head coach Sean Payton is suspended for entire 2012 season) and numerous players. The entire scenario not only rocked the sports world, but also revealed the rather sinister levels to which some people and organizations descend in order to win.
Don't bother stating that football is a tough game and people should just get used to it. Not so. In fact, the entire reason the Saints are in such trouble is that there are ethical rules governing such behaviour, and the team covered up their travesties for years because they knew they were defiling the conduct of sport.
Imagine it: Behind the scenes you are encouraged by your superiors and peers to inflict the most severe damage possible on the opposition, and if you succeed you are promptly rewarded with financial bonuses. It's one thing for the Olympics to be more characterized by professionals than amateurs, but another altogether to have role models for the young and old alike actually gain reward for criminal behaviour in the public arena. To the traits of football being competitive, tough, engaging, lucrative, and inspiring can be added "criminal."
For most football fans, there existed a kind of tacit understanding that the game was migrating from hard-hitting to a gladiatorial contest with serious consequences, but as long as no proof existed we let it slide. Well, we can't anymore, and it's an indication of how our tolerance levels have grown to such an extent that so many of the celebrity figures our kids adore are, in fact, part of industries that practice the very traits we ask our children to avoid. Will fans demand reforms as a result? Unlikely.
Look at politics in both Ottawa and Washington and try to convince yourself that the field of political service hasn't been spoiled by this desire to "kneecap" the opposition in ways that can ruin careers at the worst, or humiliate people at best. Entire research groups exist within the political structures of both countries, funded by parties and even by governments, tasked with doing the most damage possible to anyone representing a threat.
In Ottawa, in the parliament of the people, humiliation, destruction, and even the slow torture of politicians through false and misleading negative ads, has become standard fare, and the governing party that turned such tactics into a Canadian art form was recently handed a majority mandate.
It wasn't as though Canadians had to presume such things occurred; it was out in the open, day after day, negative ad after negative ad, slandered politician after slandered politician. We say we are incensed by it, even shamed, yet we permit it everyday, justifying our ambivalence by stating that this is standard procedure for our national political life.
On any given day in Parliament this practice continues, and like the New Orleans Saints, it isn't merely undertaken by some lowly players seeking extra funds. It starts with the Prime Minister, is led by a cadre of ministers better at humiliating others than honouring the dignities of Parliament and public service. Of course other parties occasionally incorporated such dubious means, but they never professionalized it like current levels.
The worst part of it all? Perpetrators are rewarded for such indecencies by public funds. That fact alone should make the electorate irate. But, to date, that has not yet happened. We witness daily the rewarding of those who undertake dishonourable acts in the name of party loyalty. They revel in it because they have learned that even taking on such dubious practices in public appears to delight media and the public alike.
We live in times when respectable conduct and playing by the rules are at a premium. By our very silence we have condoned behaviour that speaks not only to the length certain "players" will go to be rewarded, but also that to which citizens themselves are willing to stoop to just let the game go on. That is inevitably a contest which nobody wins.