Big Question: Threat, bet or joke?

Are we OK with NFL players threatening deliberate injury and offering six-figure bets via Twitter under the guise of otherwise harmless trash-talking?

It's a question first raised by Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and one we should at least consider after having our fun last week in the X-Files exchange between New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and several Minnesota Vikings players. Sharper started it off by suggesting the Saints will target the surgically-repaired left ankle of Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the teams' Sept. 9 season opener. Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe then noted Sharper's own offseason surgery, a significant knee procedure, and Sharper later suggested Shiancoe bet a game check on his production in the game.

All fun and games, right? We are left to presume so, especially knowing that both players have a long history of harmless trash talk. Having covered both players for multiple seasons, I personally feel satisfied they're just having a good time and enjoying the attention.

But will everyone take it that way? We've entered a new era of communication where tone and message must be contracted to 140 characters. It's even harder to understand intent via Twitter than in an e-mail.

And let's not forget there is a serious backdrop to the entire exchange. The Saints were called for two roughing penalties against Favre in the NFC Championship Game, and the NFL later ruled the Saints should have been called for a third on a play where defensive end Bobby McCray grabbed Favre's ankle from behind and yanked him to the ground. The league fined McCray $20,000 for the incident.

That's why I'm thinking the league isn't totally thrilled to see players publicly discussing the potential for a similar play in the future, no matter what the tone or intent. And I'm very certain the league doesn't want a player so much as suggesting he would bet on his performance.

Shiancoe hasn't responded to that portion of Sharper's missive, and he would be wise to move on completely. Sometimes, you have to make sure everyone understands the line between a joke and a threat.