Economists Kevin Hassett and Stan Veuger compiled injury data from the 2009 to 2011 NFL seasons and found that the New Orleans Saints, despite having a bounty system in place, injured fewer players per game than the NFL average. They suggest this indicates Saints players “admirably ignored” their coaches’ instructions.
The data-driven answer is a resounding “no.” The Saints appear to have injured far fewer players over the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. The numbers are striking. From 2009 to 2011, the Saints injured, on average, 3.2 opposing players each game. The rest of the teams in the league caused, on average, 3.8 injuries per game. This difference is highly statistically significant, or in other words, it would hold up in a court of law or a fancy academic journal. In each year of the bounty program, the Saints injured fewer players than the average for the league. In 2009, the Saints injured 2.8 players a game, and other teams injured on average 3.8. In 2010, it was 3.5 and 3.6, and in 2011 it was 3.3 and 3.8.
This data is flawed. The following week’s injury report is a poor way to determine the effect of bounties. The point was to knock a player out of the game, not cause him a lingering injury for the next week. One would have to look at every minute of Saints’ tape vs. controls.
The aggregate injury total tells little. To gauge the effect of a bounty one needs a finer level of analysis. Was an offensive skill player who had bene to a Pro Bowl was more likely to be hit late against the Saints? Was a quarterback with a knee injury history more likely to be hit in that knee against the Saints?
Moreover, the effect is not the issue. It is the intent. Safety must become paramount for the NFL for humane purposes, for practical purposes (injuries to star players hurt the product) and potentially for existential purposes with future lawsuits. The Saints players and coaches showed wanton disregard for safety, even after being instructed explicitly by the NFL to stop what they were doing. Eradicating a culture (that the NFL was complicit in creating) is far more important than the Saints’ record in 2012.
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