As a vilifed group showed up to beg for a reduced sentence, the brainchild of their crime stared down more evidence that he should never again be paid to coach football on any level.
Gregg Williams ought to be banned for life.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton visited the NFL’s mothership Thursday, to appeal to the compassionate side of his judge, jury and arbitrator—commissioner Roger Goodell wearing all robes—for a reprieve in the season-long sentence Payton received for his role in the bounty system.
Goodell also heard appeals from general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt, and if Payton’s petition results in his banishment being cut to, say, 14 games, and if Loomis and Vitt also receive a drop of leniency—well, that would be tolerable for those who can appreciate the game’s inherent violence while understanding certain lines cannot be crossed.
But how can anyone with a conscience ever again hire Williams in any capacity? He shouldn’t be allowed near the water bottles, never mind humans who prefer their body parts kept relatively intact.
Make no mistake, for every Frank Gore’s head or Michael Crabtree’s leg, there are other craniums and ACLs on which Williams drew specific bull's-eyes. And absolutely, there are likely other teams participating in similar money-for-blood plots. Maybe they’re shredding the evidence this very second. Or at the very least not having it documented on tape.
Just as Payton and pals were meeting at league headquarters with Goodell, there dropped with a thud the smoking tape made by a documentary filmmaker who followed the Saints last season. On it Williams, then the Saints defensive coordinator who has been suspended indefinitely as part of the larger inquiry, is heard imploring his players to maim specific opponents by targeting specific body parts.
He did this AFTER the league had told the Saints they were being investigated for engaging in illegal pay-to-injure schemes, proving Williams’ hubris stretches beyond what we thought was just a normal King of the World conceit.
When Williams references Crabtree, the 49ers receiver, telling his guys to “take out that outside ACL,” anyone who knows the sacred code among players understands that taking out the knees is a deliberate attempt to ruin a player’s livelihood.
The NFL brotherhood should be livid upon hearing that sinister part.
Williams says of Gore, the San Francisco running back, “we’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head … we want him running sideways. We want his head sideways."
Obviously Williams was the only person on this continent who hadn’t heard about the epidemic of former players coming forward with all sorts of debilitating problems—ranging from depression to dementia—after suffering concussive hits.
Either Williams was clueless to Goodell’s heightened campaign for player safety, or Williams was pure evil. Let’s cut him some undeserved slack and assume he’s just not that bright, because even after being told by his boss to knock off the nonsense, he continued to defy orders.
It’s possible to appreciate the NFL for being an incredibly violent sport and still understand there are absolute lines that extend well beyond legitimate hits and into paying players (illegal, by the collective bargaining agreement) bonuses for on-field misconduct. Nobody is screeching for the NFL to be a barn dance. Nasty stuff happens at the bottom of piles, or on cross-field routes.
But targeting specific areas of specific players isn’t motivational. It borders on criminal.
According to Sean Pamphilon, the filmmaker who was making a documentary about Steve Gleason's battle with ALS and thus given access to the Saints’ meeting on the eve of their January playoff game in San Francisco, Williams rubbed his fingers together to suggest cash awaited players who heeded his words.
“We hit (expletive) Smith right there," Williams said, pointing to his chin as he spoke about 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. "Go lay that (expletive) out. We're going to dominate the line of scrimmage and we're going to kill the head.
"Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head. ... Respect comes from fear."
The “head” here could be a metaphor, but not what came next. Of 49ers receiver Kyle Williams, already dealing with numerous head injuries, Williams said: "No. 10, about his concussion. We need to (expletive) put a lick on him right now."
The NFL brotherhood should have chills at this juncture, and for those players or coaches who don’t, who say the handwringers are a bunch of pansies, they might want to chat with the family of Dave Duerson. He’s the former player who, before killing himself, wrote a note requesting that his brain be examined for football-related damage. As suspected following years of depression and loss of impulse control, the postmortem study showed Duerson suffered from trauma to the brain tissues resulting from concussions.
Those who bemoan their beloved game turning into a wimpfest might want to try saying that aloud to Mark Rypien and the hundreds—soon to be thousands—of ex-players now suing the NFL in federal court. They claim the league didn’t do enough to inform players about the dangers of head injuries or to protect them from concussions.
Go ahead, call them sissies. Tell them to take off their skirts
If it matters, the day after Williams told his Saints exactly what head and leg to try to maim, the 49ers won the playoff game. It was clear that the Niners hit harder, played tougher. And again the next week the New York Giants as they beat the 49ers in the NFC title game where, it turns out, part of the visitors' strategy was to target Williams, the punt returner, in the head. His two fumbles helped seal the Giants’ overtime victory.
So definitely, other teams and their personnel ought to be wondering when Goodell’s investigators will come knocking.
Williams, who moved on to the St. Louis Rams as defensive coordinator, will not appeal his indefinite suspension, proving he has some brain cells. Pamphilon, the filmmaker, emphasized to Yahoo! Sports that Payton and Loomis were not in the room when Williams delivered his speech.
It’s not yet clear if the smoking tape was part of the evidence Goodell heard that led to the unprecedented punishments. Perhaps Williams will disappear for a bit, make amends by speaking to schools about a culture change in the game, say he’s learned his lesson and be welcomed back into the fold. Maybe the coaching fraternity will think there but for the grace of Goodell go we … and give Williams the keys again.
Michael Vick did his time for his crimes and has been warmly embraced, but this is a whole different affront to the NFL brotherhood. Why should the ringleader of a clearly banned bounty program the league is trying to eradicate ever again be employable?
Hours after appealing their cases to Goodell, Payton slipped out a back door, but Vitt’s lawyer, David Cornwell, said the tape was just one more example of Williams going rogue. Those once close to Williams might break legs trying to run from his indefensible actions.
Any reasonable person knows there’s a gap between playing physical and playing dirty. When a coach creates a culture in which players are encouraged and paid to cross that line, the consequences should be equal to the havoc he promotes.
Keep Williams out of the game. For life.