Chris Kluwe is known for his great sense of humor, but he doesn’t joke around when it comes to issues of player safety. When Kluwe thought the NFL wasn’t doing enough to protect punters? He ripped the league via whiteboard. When he thought Kerry Meier of the Falcons took a cheap shot at his long-snapper Cullen Loeffler? He called Kerry Meier an “a**hole” and a “f***ing douchepickle.”
But those were small controversies compared to the firestorm currently raging in the wake of Bountygate. At heart, the Bountygate flap is about player safety. The NFL is constantly touting its efforts to take care of player health, particularly when it comes to head injuries, but that new image is in jeopardy thanks to the news about the Saints’ bounty system. The NFL wants us to think it’s forward-minded when it comes to protecting players, but Bountygate makes the league look as barbaric and backward as it was during the 1950s. This is a major issue for Roger Goodell who is clearly trying to clean up the game’s image with his aggressive approach to discipline.
Chris Kluwe gets all this. Appearing on the Football & French Toast podcast, the punter discussed the safety and image issues underlying the whole Bountygate controversy. “It threatens the image of the game,” Kluwe said. “When you look at an NFL game…you don’t want to think that guys are out there actively trying to hurt each other. NFL’s a violent game. We all know the risks when we step on the field. Granted, as a punter, I don’t face those risks quite as much as other people. At the same time there’s a chance a guy’s going to hit you, injuries happen, that’s part of the game, that’s why people are interested in it. But what people aren’t interested in seeing, unless they’re sadistic twisted people, is guys that are actively trying to hurt other people. That’s not part of what makes the NFL the most popular sport in America.
“As a player you don’t want to believe guys are out there trying to hurt other guys,” Kluwe added. “It’s a dangerous game and that’s without trying to hurt other people. You’re in a lot of vulnerable positions and it’s really an issue of trust. Players have to be able to trust each other that if you’ve got a guy in a vulnerable position…you have to trust that a guy’s not going to dive into your knee and end your career. Because if that starts happening teams are going to retaliate. Then all of a sudden it starts escalating and you get superstars that are done.”
Clearly Kluwe believes the bounty system is poisonous to the NFL both image-wise and in terms of the vital trust that must be maintained between the players if they’re going to come out of it all in one piece. But what would he do to assure such practices are done away with once and for all? Kluwe favors harsh punishment for the Bountygate perpetrators. Former Saints DC Gregg Williams and current player Jonathan Vilma have already admitted to their participation. Vilma in fact confessed to offering a $10,000 bounty on Kluwe’s former teammate Brett Favre before the NFC title game. Kluwe would come down hard on both those men. He told Football & French Toast, “I think that Vilma and Williams should be banned from football for life. And any of the guys that took money on a hit that injured someone should be suspended for at least a year.” Kluwe added, “You have to make a serious example out of what has gone on here.”
Strong opinions from Kluwe. I wonder what all the tough guy old school guys think of his thoughtful takes. There are plenty of people saying Bountygate is no big deal and that it’s just football. Even Brett Favre himself brushed the whole thing off, insisting he’s not “pissed” at the Saints for injuring him. But clearly there are some players who understand the many dilemmas presented by such practices. Now it falls to Roger Goodell to decide what the proper punishment is for this highly-publicized transgression. If Roger is true to his Judge Roy Bean image, Williams, Vilma and the Saints organization are going to be feeling some pain in their pocketbooks.