Casuistry and the NFL

You’ve probably heard by now about the practice in the National Football League of paying defensive players bonuses for hits that took out or injured opposing players.  Nick Lannon at the very fine website Mockingbird examines the “casuistry”–that is, the moral rationalization–that some players are indulging in to justify the practice:

The recent revelations about the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty” program have rocked the talking-head world at ESPN. The Saints, apparently, had a program, administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who ran similar programs at previous teams), wherein players received cash bonuses for inflicting injuries on opposing players. For instance, knocking a quarterback out of the game might get you $10,000, and getting him carted off on a stretcher might earn you $20,000. No one seems to be particularly surprised that this kind of thing was going on; many have suggested that this occurs on every team, and that the Saints mistake was writing it all down and keeping track.

I don’t want to get into the morality of paying players to intentionally injure other players, although I will say that it seems an awful lot like criminal activity (aggravated assault) to me. When Tonya Harding paid her boyfriend to take out Nancy Kerrigan, people went to prison. It has been notoriously difficult to prove “intent” on the athletic field, but with documented records of who got what for hurting whom, intent seems a bit easier to prove. Alternatively, I want to use these revelations (and especially the response of several former players) as an opportunity to talk about a theological idea: casuistry.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve heard both Mike Golic and Marcellus Wiley (former players) say that everyone is overreacting to this story. They say that they “went after the quarterback” as hard as they could on every play, and couldn’t have done more if they’d been paid to. Their argument was, in effect, that the devastation of a hit would be the same, whatever the motivation of the player delivering it. Put another way, they said something like: “Football is a violent game, and people are going to get hurt playing it. We all know that going in. Paying people a little extra to put a little extra on some hits isn’t going to change anything.”

Casuistry might well be defined as “an attempt, via nit-picking, to appear to obey a rule whilst breaking it.” Our own DPotter took a crack at defining it HERE. It seems that it would be clear to the most uneducated observer that while a player might not be able to hit a quarterback harder to earn their little bonus, they might well be able to hit them in the knee or in the head. And since when is “I play a game that is inherently violent” an acceptable excuse for attempting to injure another person? The best example of casuistry of all time is this 2005 story in The Telegraph, the first line of which is, “Machines will perform euthanasia on terminally ill patients in Israel under legislation devised not to offend Jewish law, which forbids people taking human life.”

via Hit ‘Em For Money, Hurt ‘Em For a Little More | Mockingbird.

Legalists do this loophole hunting all the time as a way to justify their bad behavior, finding a technicality that allows them to transgress while still feeling self-righteous.  Can you think of other examples of this kind of casuistry?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I see this justification for contemporary worship services. Although contemporary worship in and of itself is not a sin, it can and does turn into a distraction. The whole argument for ratcheting up songs to (in some cases) an arena rock level is that it draws people in. As somebody who has sat through this more than once, it’s basically people using what makes them feel good as an excuse to “reach out.” Pragmatism on parade.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I see this justification for contemporary worship services. Although contemporary worship in and of itself is not a sin, it can and does turn into a distraction. The whole argument for ratcheting up songs to (in some cases) an arena rock level is that it draws people in. As somebody who has sat through this more than once, it’s basically people using what makes them feel good as an excuse to “reach out.” Pragmatism on parade.

  • Danny

    You go, J. Dean. The harm with some contemporary worship is that our little ones are growing up in it. I have two concerns for the kids coming up in high end contemporary worship: What will you do to top that in your generation? If it feels good is it okay?

  • Danny

    You go, J. Dean. The harm with some contemporary worship is that our little ones are growing up in it. I have two concerns for the kids coming up in high end contemporary worship: What will you do to top that in your generation? If it feels good is it okay?

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    I think we all engage in it…with God. As we refuse to submit to His will, and scheme and manuever and try like mad to assert our own wills.

    This is why Jesus taight us to pray AGAINST ourselves, in The Lord’s Prayer.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    I think we all engage in it…with God. As we refuse to submit to His will, and scheme and manuever and try like mad to assert our own wills.

    This is why Jesus taight us to pray AGAINST ourselves, in The Lord’s Prayer.

  • Jack

    Is it about contemporary worship, or is it about the called shepherd failing to place, first and foremost his obligation to properly tend the sheep and lambs of his flock?

    Is the rationalization that removal of the liturgy (scripture) from the Divine Service, and replacing it with meaningless crap anything less than denial of the efficacy of the Word?

  • Jack

    Is it about contemporary worship, or is it about the called shepherd failing to place, first and foremost his obligation to properly tend the sheep and lambs of his flock?

    Is the rationalization that removal of the liturgy (scripture) from the Divine Service, and replacing it with meaningless crap anything less than denial of the efficacy of the Word?

  • kerner

    One big one I have seen on this blog is the proposal that Christians ignore what God’s Word actually says on the page and reduce everything to “loving your neighbor” + reason.

    While the whole 2nd table of the law may in fact hang on that principle, if we abandon that the law actually says as written, the principle standing alone can be used by sinful men (by which I mean all of us) to rationalize anything. It begins to mean: Am I giving my neighbor something he wants? If I think so (reason), then I am following the law. If the law as written on the page appears to disagree with me, well, it must have been written for somebody else.

    I think this is antinomianism refined to a high art.

  • kerner

    One big one I have seen on this blog is the proposal that Christians ignore what God’s Word actually says on the page and reduce everything to “loving your neighbor” + reason.

    While the whole 2nd table of the law may in fact hang on that principle, if we abandon that the law actually says as written, the principle standing alone can be used by sinful men (by which I mean all of us) to rationalize anything. It begins to mean: Am I giving my neighbor something he wants? If I think so (reason), then I am following the law. If the law as written on the page appears to disagree with me, well, it must have been written for somebody else.

    I think this is antinomianism refined to a high art.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    This kind of casuistry is at the heart of birth-control. They argue that birth-control will lower the abortion rate and yet they never address the root issues.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    This kind of casuistry is at the heart of birth-control. They argue that birth-control will lower the abortion rate and yet they never address the root issues.

  • DonS

    What Kerner @ 5 said.

  • DonS

    What Kerner @ 5 said.

  • jrr

    A more subtle form is the Jews and their corban. They did something good to avoid doing something else they should have been doing. The root of the issue is incomplete obedience. We would call our children on this when we were raising them also. They would do a good thing (take the dog for a walk without being asked) instead of doing the thing we asked them to do (like clean their room). The football example is egregious. This is a more subtle form of disobedience.

  • jrr

    A more subtle form is the Jews and their corban. They did something good to avoid doing something else they should have been doing. The root of the issue is incomplete obedience. We would call our children on this when we were raising them also. They would do a good thing (take the dog for a walk without being asked) instead of doing the thing we asked them to do (like clean their room). The football example is egregious. This is a more subtle form of disobedience.

  • Ken

    I would liken it to the “reasoning” Catholic Ted Kennedy used in justifiying abortion.

  • Ken

    I would liken it to the “reasoning” Catholic Ted Kennedy used in justifiying abortion.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Funny, I’d thought that the point of football was to score points on the scoreboard, not injure opposing players. Thank you, Lord, for giving me lineman’s speed in a receiver’s body, and letting me keep two good knees running cross country and track!

    Regarding contemporary worship, maybe it would be good to separate the use of modern music (can be either good or bad) from man-centered worship. Put gently, I’ve heard a lot of hymns in a church or two where worship was profoundly man-centered.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Funny, I’d thought that the point of football was to score points on the scoreboard, not injure opposing players. Thank you, Lord, for giving me lineman’s speed in a receiver’s body, and letting me keep two good knees running cross country and track!

    Regarding contemporary worship, maybe it would be good to separate the use of modern music (can be either good or bad) from man-centered worship. Put gently, I’ve heard a lot of hymns in a church or two where worship was profoundly man-centered.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X