You Don’t Have to Show Them the Money Because it is Not About the Money!

A colleague, Tyler, asked me the other day during a discussion about the pay for performance bounty escapade, “What is $1000 to a millionaire?” That is like saying to your buddy at the bar, “Betcha a dollar.” The supposed $10,000 bounty on Bret Favre would have been like the average person winning $100 bucks.  What makes even less sense is that, under revised hitting guidelines, most plays that “knock players out of games” constitute an “illegal” hit which usually results in a $25,000+ fine-chump change to a multimillionaire.   No, it wasn’t about the money.  Too bad former Saints Defensive Coach Williams didn’t understand that.  He could have saved some money.  If it wasn’t about the money, what was it?  The players had to know that Williams’ pay-for-performance scheme was against the rules, so why risk the negative consequences of getting caught breaking the rules if it wasn’t about the money? It was about positive reinforcement and lots of it. One thing that the “pay for performance bounty” did was to focus reinforcement on activities that would likely hurt a player to the extent that he would have to leave the game. 

To understand the sources of reinforcement, all you had to do was watch the reaction of the player as he raised his hands triumphantly after the hit.  Watch the other players as they jumped on him giving him approving hand gestures.  Listen to the team fans as they cheered loudly and approvingly.  Watch as the player returned to the sidelines as the other players on the bench greeted and congratulated him.  Watch Williams as the player came off the field.  Oh I am sure that none of the players refused the money but I suggest it was more like a trophy than cash that they would spend after practice.  It would not surprise me if some of the players had the money framed and hung on the wall at home. I am glad to see that the league is taking this seriously as it is still in the news and being investigated several weeks after the scandal was reported. 

I am still worried that those who were not directly involved, like Head Coach Sean Payton and the Saints GM, receive consequences that will cause them to stop this kind of behavior.  I doubt that they will.  In my opinion they have had serious lapses of judgment in their decision-making.  Unethical behavior is difficult to change and a monetary penalty or suspension from the sidelines for a few games will have little effect.  Barring the team from the playoffs might get their attention but I think that will still have minimal effect on their judgment of what behavior constitutes fair play when they get out of “the penalty box.”  Speaking of which, why not eject a player from the game when he has the second illegal hit in a game or when he has more than three or four in a season. Football is fun and exciting because the league is a stickler for abiding by the rules.  What constitutes where the ball is placed, when the knee is on the ground, whether both feet were in bounds and the ball under control are all determined as precisely as the replay and camera angles can detect.  What constitutes fair competition and the penalties that will stop it should be taken just as seriously.  Can it really be fun to win an athletic competition by cheating? Full disclosure and transparency requires me to say that as a die-hard Atlanta Falcons fan, “I knew they cheated.”

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.