This blog will be an NFL blog, but I am going to start this one off with a short discussion of one of the most heinous attacks on an athlete that I have ever heard about. Sadly, the perpetrator of the attack was a fellow competitor. Trust me. This will all tie into what I will be discussing in the blog.
On January 6, 1994, in a hallway at the former Cobo Hall in Detroit, MI, Nancy Kerrigan was walking from a practice session for the US Figure Skating Championships to be held at the Joe Louis Arena, when an attacker, dressed in black, clubbed her in the right knee on her landing leg. She collapsed in pain, screaming “Why, why, why??” She could not compete at the competition, but eventually was chosen to compete at Lillehammer, Norway. The investigation into her attacker lead to her fellow competitor, and rival Tonya Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gilooly (now Jeff Stone) and a couple of their goofball buddies. Harding, who won the Kerrigan-less Ladies Competition also qualified to go to Norway, but sued to keep her spot. Kerrigan wound up with the Silver Medal at Lillehammer, and Harding cried her way to eighth. Eventually, Tonya Harding faced various charges for her role in the Kerrigan attack, and the United States Figure Skating Association banned her from any USFSA sponsored events for life.
[adinserter block=”2″]Now, how does this tie into the New Orleans Saints, the winner of Super Bowl 44, you might ask. Well, from recent reports, it looks like their now former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, had a “bounty program” during his tenure with the team from 2009 to 2011 might be the Tonya Harding of defensive coordinators. He evidently, from reports, ran a bounty program, that involved 22 to 27 players where if one of the defensive players “knocked out an opposing player,” the guy would be awarded $1500, and if the victim was “carried off the field,” the reward was $1000. There were also incentives for interceptions, forced fumbles, etc. Saints GM Mickey Loomis is involved as he evidently knew about the program, but may have lied to owner Tom Benson. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton , according to the report knew what was going on, but did nothing to put an end to it.
During the 2009/2010 playoffs which lead to the Saints winning the Super Bowl, two of the main targets for Williams were Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, and Brett Farve of the Vikings. Warner, in the Divisional Round took a nasty shot from Saint defender Bobby McCray after he threw an INT. The shot was clean, but when I saw the play, I wondered was McCray’s hit really NEEDED? McCray certainly could have pulled up. In the NFC Championship game, Brett Farve got battered mercilessly, including a high/low shot which the referees never called. It happened very late in the game. It was these hits that actually triggered the NFL’s investigation. At first, the NFL could not find anything wrong, but due to someone, either a former Saints player, or possibly a coach with direct knowledge of the situation, coming forward, a full investigation was done, and even Gregg Williams admitted to the program’s existence.
Well, I want to start by saying I love the sport of football, and have loved it since childhood. The sport has always fascinated me with the great athletes, and their strength and their gracefulness, and , of course, the hard hits. I mean, who doesn’t love the bone crunching hits. However, what I love is seeing the brotherhood amongst the players. They all enjoy playing, and “fighting” (their words) for one another, not only on their own teams, but after the game, I think it is awesome to see them fraternizing with the other team. Of course, that upsets a lot of “old school” fans, but this “old school” fan has learned to live with the changes.
That being said, I have been on Twitter, and on Facebook, and have listened to the “experts,” on ESPN, and I hear a lot of people pretty much giving the excuse of “everyone does it.” “We did this in the locker room.” “Football is a violent sport anyway.” “Belichick got away with cheating. Leave this guy alone.” “Football is not for everyone.” “No one cares about this.” I hear a lot of poo pooing this scandal , as if this is not a big deal.
Well, I may be in the minority, but I think this is a big deal. Remember Ms. Harding? People inside, and outside the skating world were OUTRAGED at her, and her husband’s band of thugs. I mean, seriously. Jeff Gillooly, Shawn Eckhardt, and Shane Stant were convicted of racketeering charges for their deeds. Gillooly took a plea bargain for his testimony. Racketeering involves FRAUD, and compromises integrity of an enterprise usually, in this case, Harding (who plead guilty to charges of covering it up, and failure to report what she knew), and her buddies were pretty much trying to fix the Ladies Competition in Detroit by eliminating Kerrigan from the competition.
Well, and call me crazy, but isn’t this scandal with Gregg Williams SIMILAR? I mean, it is a different sport, and I understand that in locker rooms that players put money in a pot and award each other for “the biggest hit” and all that (Darren Woodson mentioned this on ESPN’s Mike and Mike), but Williams deeds not only go BEYOND the pale, but the whole PRINCIPAL is essentially the same. Williams is paying players to take out the opponents’ best players. Let’s say in that same NFC Championship game, that Brett Farve was “knocked out” of the game on the second play, and could not return. That would take the Vikings’ top player (outside of their start running back, Adrian Peterson) from the game. I would suspect , even with Peterson still in the game, that it would be a lot easier to play against the Vikings’ backup than against Farve. It looks like to me that the Saints are trying to fix the game if they remove Farve. Remember Williams’ comment about Peyton Manning before Super Bowl 44 when he said he was going to give Peyton some “remember me” shots? It surely would have made life easier for the Saints in Super Bowl 44 if one of those “remember me” shots knocked Peyton out of the game , and they would have had to play against Sorgi. If that does not compromise the integrity of the game, and harm players’ safety, then I don’t know WHAT does,
The sad thing about this is that Gregg Williams evidently has done this “program” as Bills head coach from 2001-2003, and as the defensive coordinator of Washington Redskins from 2004-2007. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy said he believed the Titans had a bounty on Peyton Manning, and also believes Peyton’s neck issues stems from a hit from a Washington defender in 2006. Who was the defensive coordinator for the Redskins? It was Gregg Williams. In addition to the Titans, Dungy thinks the Skins had a bounty on Manning as well. If any of these other allegations are true, this Williams guy is a bad dude.
Again, I realize that a bounty system, and all has likely been in football forever. I get that. However, Goodell evidently had warned the Saints, and such, and they still did it. Williams admitted to doing such a thing. Besides, what a lot of people are missing is the fact that all this bounty stuff is violating the NFL rulebook, and the CBA. I admit stuff like this may go one in other locker rooms, but this was organized, and evidently approved by the Saints. The Saints got caught, and as Commissioner Goodell (even though I am not his biggest fan) said, he has to protect the “integrity of the game, and player safety,” so the Saints, Williams, Payton, and Loomis, players all must face some sort of punishment.
I am personally disgusted by this whole mess. I know that every team, much like every business enterprise, and every politician, tries to get a competitive advantage by whatever means. However, this is just sick. I think what upsets me, and I LOVE the big hits as much as most NFL fans, is the INTENT. Trust me. I know when I see someone like the New England Patriots NT Vince Wilfork coming through and blasting Denver QB Tim Tebow to Kingdom Come. Wilfork is doing his job, and NOT trying to hurt Tebow on purpose. However, there is a difference if someone like CB Jabari Greer of the Saints knocking out the Cardinals’ star WR Larry Fitzgerald from a playoff game, and being given an incentive by HIS COACH for knocking Fitzgerald out. I mean, when Williams is doing his bounty game, I feel he is trying to alter the outcome of the game, much like Harding and her thugs. I mean, Harding wanted Kerrigan damaged enough so she could compete not only at the National Championships, but at the Olympics, to make it easier for Tony to get the Gold Medal in Lillehammer. Gregg Williams’ institutionalized system of paying his defensive player to try to have top offensive players knocked out of games would make it easier for the Saints during the season, and especially in the playoffs. Sean Payton’s high flying offense also would benefit. I mean, if the opponents didn’t have their top players, who would be “knocked out” of the games, the opponents could not compete.
My point is that in football, sure, people are going to get hurt. It IS a violent sport. However, hurting people on purpose is not the idea of the game. Injuries are part of the game. That is true, but having an institutionalized system where a team injures another player on purpose just makes me nauseated. Is this a professional game, or is this the Gladiators? I would like to know what is the purpose of intentionally hurting another player to get them out of the game? I mean, what fun is that? If I were a professional NFL player, I would want to play a team at full strength, or as healthy as possible. Now, if the QB or top RB gets hurt on a play, well, that is how it goes, but if I knew that my defensive coordinator had the kind of system that Williams had, and the QB was knocked out, I don’t know if I would feel all that good. I mean, sure, I beat my opponent, but it was only because my LB took out the QB because of the “bounty.” To me, this bounty system is not honest. The system violates the CBA , and I just feel it is cheating.
[adinserter block=”1″]As for punishments, that will be up to Roger Goodell, but I think that Gregg Williams, due to his track record, and such, should be banned from the NFL. If he only did this with the Saints, that would be bad enough, but the NFL is looking into the Washington Redskins allegations, and there are also the Buffalo Bills allegations. I just think the guy is bad news. He should not be in the NFL. If he does not get a lifetime ban, he should at least get a year’s suspension. I would suspend Sean Payton for at least half the season, if not the entire season. He knew about the program, but did nothing to stop it. I mean, really. What kind of coach is he? I am also having a hard time with GM Loomis’ involvement. What kind of GM is he? He hides things from his boss, the Owner? I wonder what kind of operation Tom Benson runs down there. I surely hope the organization gets hit hard with fines, and loss of draft picks.
I just hope a message is sent that behavior like this will not be tolerated.
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/missedgehead