And let’s get this out of the way right now: Football is a rough game, and players are going to get hurt. I’m tired of hearing that girls (!) just don’t understand that. Really? You do not need a Y chromosome to understand football, and you really don’t need one to understand Williams. He was a bully with a black and gold pulpit. Read the transcript: What he told those players had nothing to do with coaching. If you are applying for a promotion and your boss advises you to run over your top competitor with a car, that’s not an inspirational speech, even if he puts a whistle around his neck before he says it.
The people who keep coming back to the tired point about the inherent violence of the game are using it to cloud the larger picture. There is getting hurt, and there is deliberately hurting someone for money, and they are not the same thing. (In fact, the second is considered a crime in civilized society.)
Lawrence Taylor administered one of the worst injuries ever filmed, but no one believes he did it intentionally, that a defensive coordinator offered him a grand to break Joe Theismann’s leg. That’s an example of football as a rough game in which injuries happen. Je comprehends!
The NFL sent some mixed signals regarding its investigation of Williams, first indicating it was done after handing down the punishments to the Saints, then saying that it was still looking into Williams’s time with other teams, including the Redskins, mainly because there was a feeling Williams was being made a scapegoat for something that is happening all around the league.
After reading the transcript, NFL officials should make Williams the scapegoat, the object lesson, the big honking example of what will happen to anyone else who carries on like this. Of course Williams isn’t the only offender; of course the Saints weren’t the only guilty team. But as Williams said, “A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on victory.”
So the NFL can erase all doubt about how it feels about this behavior. A league facing more than 50 lawsuits over head injuries can at least say it took decisive and permanent action against the man who advised his players: “Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Early. Affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head.”
Really, Williams would be a sad character if he weren’t so dangerous. Does he really believe this statement? “Respect comes from fear. This is how you get respect in this league.” Think of some of your favorite players in the league. Do you really think they all used fear to gain respect? And shouldn’t there be a difference between being afraid a player is going to catch you in the backfield and being afraid that player is going to deliberately try to inflict a concussion? If respect comes from fear, I certainly have no respect for Williams. Disdain, perhaps.
In discussing his opinion about fear, Williams said, “If you’re in this room, you understand that. We don’t apologize.”
Naturally, he has since apologized several times. Apparently you don’t apologize for trying to tear someone’s anterior cruciate ligament, but you do apologize for telling someone to try to tear someone’s ACL. He’s the Emily Post of the new millennium.
For me to continue to be a fan of the NFL, I have to believe that Williams is not representative of the entire league. I have to. Eric Taylor’s exhortation of “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” might have been just good writing, but as a pep talk, it sure beats “Kill the head and the body will die.”
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.
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Mike Wise on NFL culture and killing the head
Early Lead: Gregg Williams told Saints to injure 49ers (audio)
Film director says he was right to release tape of speech