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Article updated: 10/5/2012 5:54 AM
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Playing the game for its own sake ought to be reward enough
 

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Playing the game for its own sake ought to be reward enough

Bounties are apparently not a quicker picker-upper only for NFL players.

How about 10- and 11-year-old Pop Warner football players? That's a big part of a brewing scandal with a successful team in Tustin, Calif., where players were allegedly offered $20 to $50 by coaches if they delivered big hits on targeted opponents in playoff games last season. It hasn't exactly been the way a team that went to the Pop Warner Super Bowl wanted to gain national notoriety.

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Although one opponent left a game with a concussion, this group of saints -- some of the team's coaches and the organization's commissioner -- have denied the allegations.

The sport is dangerous enough without adding an even more potentially dangerous endgame.

First of all, do high-paid NFL players really need an incentive of a few extra bucks? OK, maybe that's not a good question considering all the cases of retired athletes who are broken down physically and financially.

Second, should kids who haven't even reached their teenage years require any reward for their athletic accomplishments beyond the occasional trip for some postgame ice cream?

Let's say little Johnny is getting paid by his parents for every touchdown he scores or home run he hits. So, does he pitch a fit when he doesn't get the ball? Does he try to hit every pitch over the fence because of what's in it for him? It is not exactly a positive scenario for the rest of the team.

And when does a reward system such as this end? When kids get into high school, do they begin negotiating with their parents for bigger incentive packages? After all, the games are more difficult and the opportunities for success may be less frequent.

The chance to wear the school's uniform for a varsity team in big games should be a significant payoff for those who have worked hard to maximize their athletic ability. Having to literally pay someone for that achievement would make you wonder if the kid really, truly wants to play.

Would a football player who was paid for big hits at a youth level expect something similar when he gets to high school? Would he be as interested if there was nothing more rewarding than making a clean tackle at a crucial time before a huge crowd in a big game?

Football, particularly at the amateur levels, doesn't need more mayhem and violence at a time when safety and participation numbers are becoming more of a concern. But we also shouldn't be naive enough to think "incentive programs" don't go on at high schools or in other youth programs across the country.

Trying to "kill the quarterback" has been one of the unseemly sides of the sport since its inception. In the wonderful 2008 documentary film "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" about their memorable Ivy League tie in 1968, a Yale linebacker matter-of-factly says his primary goal with a nasty, late-game hit was to try -- unsuccessfully -- and make sure Harvard's quarterback was in no condition to inflict further damage on the field.

So, there is no way to stop everyone from trying to potentially knock an opponent out of a game.

There is also no reason to give someone an extra incentive to try.

Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald. You can reach him at mmaciaszek@gmail.com

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