Saints Bounty Program Underscores Problem of Retaliation

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

The NFL’s investigation into the New Orleans Saints bounty program has created a lot of debate and controversy. The league’s investigation revealed that the Saints had a system over the past three years that awarded players cash for vicious hits that led to injuries and players being carted off the field.

It is undisputed that the bounty program was overseen by the Saints’ former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.  The Saints head coach Sean Payton was aware of the bounty but did not step in to stop it.   This led to a statement released by Payton and the team’s GM, Mickey Loomis, in which they acknowledged that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation happened under their watch.  This is yet another example of a problem that got out of control because a person with authority knew something was wrong but failed to take responsibility,

The Bounty scandal is more than a football story.  It raises an issue that even transcends sports. The bounty system itself reinforces the simple truth that it is human nature to retaliate.  How better to get back at an opponent who beats you than to take out one of its players.  Perhaps the reason the Saints rejected warnings from the NFL was because it’s just too hard to resist a good payback.  Retaliation is part of the human condition and something our society enjoys as entertainment.

This explains why fans get excited to watch a bench-clearing brawl, a good hockey fight and even a slugfest between two NASCAR drivers.   It explains why fans understand and accept “unwritten rules” that justify a bean ball or a charge to the mound.  In fact some of the most memorable sports moments from our national pastime (baseball), involve acts of retaliation:   Pete Rose beating on Buddy Harrelson, Bert Campaneris throwing a bat and Nolan Ryan taking it to Robin Ventura?

Unfortunately for employers outside of sports, acts of retaliation can be more costly than a few fines or suspensions.   In FY 2011, the EEOC received more charges alleging retaliation than any other type of claim.  This was the second consecutive year that retaliation was the most filed charge.  Retaliation is human nature so there is always a risk that it can happen.  Retaliation can take many forms: a negative job review, reduced hours, denial of training, a demotion, or termination. This is why it is imperative that employers develop policies that prohibit retaliation.  More importantly, employers need to spend time educating their management team about what retaliation is and what they can do to guard against it.