Sunday, April 8, 2012

Saints Bounty Program: "It's A Man's Game" Part III

Earlier this week an audio was released of Gregg Williams giving a pre-game speech to his defensive players.  As you can see, the audio contains explicit language that may be offensive to some.

For those who haven't played football, this language is shocking to say the least.  For former players they seem to be split on the issue.  It's clear that Gregg William's language was over the top.  No one feels comfortable about trying to cause a concussion during and after a play, or taking out a players' MCL.  However, the reactions to this audio have been overly emotional and it's necessary to explain, as I have in Part I and II of his post, an objective way to asses the situation. 

Listen to former players Teddy Bruschi, Darren Woodson and Cris Carter discuss the audio in detail:

Cris Carter, former wide receiver, calls for a lifetime ban of Gregg Williams.  Michael Irvin, former wide receiver, also calls for a lifetime ban of Gregg Williams. 

The New Orleans Saints are being deservedly disciplined for bounty programs because it's prohibited in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and they were previously warned about the programs.  Gregg William's speech to his defense was not illegal and is separate from bounty programs.  In addition, everything that was said in the speech is legal.  Hitting a player in the head, as long as it's not a defenseless receiver or a quarterback, is legal.  Tackling a player in the MCL is legal.  It may not be respected by most, but it's not illegal.  If the NFL has an issue with all hits to the head or all tackles to the knees, then it should ban those actions from the game.  Don't use a bounty program, which has nothing to do with these actions, as a way to address things that you have no courage to address.

Cris Carter also discusses a game he played in which a defensive player told him that the opposing team had targeted him for injury.  Cris Carter then says he relayed that information to an offensive lineman on his team, and the offensive linemen then targeted that defensive player for injury.  So essentially Cris Carter admits that players police these issues on their own.  This is exactly why the NFL does not need to legislate this kind of conduct.

Another important consideration is the concept of personal choice and responsibility.  Although Gregg William's language was distasteful, he was doing something that coaches commonly do.  He highlighted injuries that an opposing team has.  It's no different from boxers going after a competitors broken ribs, cut on the face or head after a vicious punch or knockout.  It's no different from a basketball player hitting the hand of their opponents when they know he has a sprained wrist or dislocated finger.  Trust me, it happens, it's just not typically done explicitly.  If a player has an injury, that player has the choice to either play or not.  If you're that concerned about a previously sprained MCL, then maybe you shouldn't play.  It's about personal responsibility.

Finally, the most important consideration is that no player has had a season ending injury as a result of a tackle from a New Orleans Saints defensive player.  In fact, when you watch the Saints you don't feel as if they're playing dirty or taking cheap shots because their not.  There are a handful of players who have a dirty reputation around the NFL, but by and large defenses as a whole make clean tackles.  If opposing players know that you have injuries to ribs, shoulders, forearms or hands it's common to try to nag that injury in any sport.  The emotional reaction comes from the psychological impact of seeing NFL players carted off the field from knee injuries.  Gregg Williams wasn't calling for a knee injury to Michael Crabtree.  He was highlighting the injuries of their opponents' key players and telling his defense to attack it.  This is common practice in all sports.  Michael Crabtree chose to play with a sprained MCL.  Frank Gore chose to play with a concussion.  If Crabtree and Gore had not previously been on the injury report, Gregg Williams wouldn't have mentioned their names.

I understand the emotional reaction to knee injuries.  I've suffered a season ending knee injury while playing football.  If the NFL has such a problem with knee injuries, then why are they legal?  The reality is a knee tackle is common practice in the NFL and is rarely performed with ill intent.  Although Greg Williams chose a tasteless way to communicate his message, I don't think his goal was to injure players' knees.  His goal was to nag and aggravate his opponents' previous injuries. 

For players, it's about personal responsibility.  The Commissioner could show some leadership by stating that.  Instead he's fearful of pending lawsuits and is literally throwing players and coaches under the bus.  There's a great quote, "behind every great fortune, there's a great crime".  In business there's things that go on behind closed doors that are directly correlated to success, profits, and gainful employment for society.  These things aren't illegal, but if exposed to the public, it might make some people uncomfortable.  As long as those things that go on behind closed doors aren't illegal or immoral, then I'm perfectly fine with the way it plays out.  And if the participants have the choice to either participate or not, then it's even better.

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