When NFL Bounties Were the Law: Smash for Cash

Precedent.

It’s one of the hallmarks of justice.  Simply stated, it means that similar factual situations should result it similar legal results and consequences.  It allows people to tailor and modify their behavior in a predictable manner.  It prevents arbitrary and capricious sanctions on actions that have in the past been found legal and appropriate.

In its reply memorandum to the NFL’s filing, the NFL Players Association made perhaps its strongest argument to date that Commissioner Goodell’s continued aggressive pursuit of the New Orleans Saints players implicated in the bounty scandal is without merit and unjust at its core.

Specifically, the NFLPA uncovered a 1996 ESPN segment entitled “Smash for Cash.”  The segment, according to the memorandum, shows NFL players discussing cash payments between players for “big plays.”  Most significantly, former Green Bay Packer Reggie White, now a member of the Hall of Fame, describes paying teammates $500 for “big hits” – sounds like a very similar fact pattern to what the NFL has now deemed to be egregious conduct.

Not only were the players in the segment not punished, but also an NFL spokesperson states unequivocally “the ‘Smash for Cash’ program is within the rules as long as players use their own monies, the amounts are not exorbitant, and the payments are not for illegal hits.”

The Constitution and Bylaws of the NFL in 1996 with respect to these types of activities remains the same today.  As the memorandum notes, the NFL’s agenda is what has changed – not the rules.

Of course it is fine for the league’s objectives to change and evolve over time.  Player safety should be an integral part of the NFL’s mission and agenda.  However, that cannot come at the expense of player’s legitimate rights to perform in their occupation.

The rule of law.  It makes our society what it is.

The NFL has already trampled over the bounty players’ right of due process.  It now seeks to vilify behavior that was in the past sanctioned.

Precedent.  It exists for a reason.

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