This started out as a comment on Jesus Hog's "Seau, Suspensions, and Saints" but went so long I thought I would post it. He made the connection for me so I want to Tip the Hat to the that Devine Swine's compelling post.
The Saints and Seau are extreme examples how players can seek to cause harm and the manifestation of that harm. While toughness is highly respected in the NFL, and pushing your body through pain a value (Bettis: 'If you can't endure pain, you can't play in the NFL'), the head is different. I have experience assessing college football players who will never play in the NFL, but whose lives are limited because of post concussive syndrome / head trauma. Unlike an ACL or broken leg, the extent of compromised cognitive function due to trauma is not isolated to a particular area, but comprehensive. I can think of no other NFL injury to which suicide is preferable to the injury itself.
Sacrifice for excellence is something that people recognize. It was reported that a fan went up to Yo-Yo Ma (famous cellist) and said "I would give my life to play like you" and his response was "I did." A recent article about Luke Keekly pointed out that in college everything Luke did was to maximize his performance on the field: sleep, diet, training - sounded very boring but not an uncommon trade off for an elite athlete. The pursuit of excellence is respected. I admire Luke's level of drive and commitment, lacking it myself, and perhaps that is what makes me a fan. However, I am not sure how many of us would make the faustian deal Muhammad Ali did, a deal Ali himself was unaware he was making. Dementia Pugilistica (what some consider was the cause/ accelerator of Ali's Parkinson's Syndrome) is a part of boxing. The head is a target, knock outs a common outcome, and numerous punches to the head over a period of time result in head trauma. Boxers age far worse than NFL players, despite much less "playing time"
Making a good play in football does not require a hit to the head. In fact, there are rules against this. Moreover, a great physical play is not better if the player is knocked unconscious. Unlike in boxing, a knockout stops the game, it is not part of it: no one cheers or applauds the one who caused the harm, the focus is all on the injured. The hitter will never claim the injury was intentional. What I find some loathsome about Bounty Gate are the efforts obfuscate the malicious scheme by wrapping it around the virtues of toughness, sacrifice, and physicality. Football is not boxing.
In any contact sport inflicting pain, being physical, and toughness are going to come into play. "Smash Mouth Football" is a common term many pundits use to evoke hard hitting and aggressive plays that wear down the other team. I love watching Amini Silatulo dominate other players, but I want them all to get up. While I never route for any team the Panthers play, I would not wish a head injury on anyone. As the post by Jesus Hog pointed out, I hope the context in which people consider Bounty Gate also includes Seau.