Steve Chapman
What is it called when football players are given significant sums of money to hurt their opponents on the field? You may think the term is "National Football League." But apparently it's "bounty."

That's what the New Orleans Saints allegedly paid for any hit that left an opposing player groggy, bloody, lame or otherwise unable to continue his participation in the contest. A league investigation found that rewards started at $1,000, for a hit that required someone to be assisted from the field -- and went as high as $10,000 in one playoff game for delivering Brett Favre's head on a platter.

The system reportedly was financed by players, with fatherly assistance from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. And the practice had sturdy roots. "The NFL said that neither Coach Sean Payton nor General Manager Mickey Loomis did anything to stop the bounties when they were made aware of them or when they learned of the league's investigation," reported The New York Times.

It would be an overstatement to say that anyone is shocked by the news that teams would succumb to the temptation to try to win by underhanded means -- or that players would get extra cash for separating a quarterback from his senses. It's a violent game; winning is good for your career; and gentle souls tend to get weeded out in high school.

Even victims shrugged off the report. Former San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, whose knee was injured in what he says was a bounty-inspired hit, wrote on Twitter, "Why is this a big deal now? Bounties been going on forever."

Favre, who suffered an ankle injury in that game with New Orleans, told Sports Illustrated he wasn't mad: "It's football. I don't think anything less of those guys."

Nor is it exactly unprecedented for players to act with malice aforethought. In 1977, St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman Conrad Dobler's habit of punching, kicking and spitting on opponents landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as "Pro Football's Dirtiest Player."

Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum permanently paralyzed New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley -- and the title of his memoir, "They Call Me Assassin," did not ooze contrition.

Chicago Bears great Dick Butkus, who occasionally left bite marks, once insisted, "I wouldn't ever set out to hurt anyone deliberately unless it was, you know, important -- like a league game or something." It didn't keep him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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