Goodell has stressed the need for improved player safety. He has advocated for rules changes to protect players and sternly enforced disciplinary action for contact no longer permitted.
But when a high-profile defensive coach has reportedly violated rules by paying cash bonuses for “knock-out hits” and “kill shots,” tackles that sent players to the sideline during games, the message clearly isn’t reaching everyone.
During the lockout, players raised concerns about post-career health problems from playing the game. Yet those who followed Williams were willing to potentially end an opponent’s career for a few thousand dollars.
And the anger expressed toward whistle-blowing players for exposing Williams’s bounty system that was detrimental to players provides another example of how much work Goodell still has ahead of him on a topic vital to the future of the nation’s most popular sport. Rightfully so, the NFL’s image has taken a painful hit.
“When you boil it right down to it, violence is obviously a large part of what the game is,” former Redskins offensive lineman Pete Kendall said in a phone interview.
“It’s a game where you’ve got 11 guys trying to overwhelm another group of 11 guys. And intimidation is part of that. But that being said, going out of one’s way to specifically incentivize and reward somebody for injuring another player . . . that makes me a little bit uncomfortable.”
Several players who worked with Williams in Washington have rallied to his defense since last week, when the NFL released its findings on the Saints’ bounties. The Redskins also face a league investigation.
Williams’s actions, at least in Washington, have been mischaracterized, players say.
“Everyone is focusing on the word, ‘bounty,’ ” former Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs said. “That’s where this whole thing got messed up.
“Bounty is a term used for trying to go kill somebody. Nothing we did in Washington was outside the rules. It was just about a little extra incentive to go out there and make plays.”
Springs is one of my favorite guys. During my time on the Redskins beat, I often sought his opinion, and we share similar views on some topics. Not on this one.
Although Williams offered bonuses for big plays — sacks, interceptions fumble recoveries, etc. — the largest payouts were given for hits that injured opponents. The system was built on corrupt ideals.
That’s all that matters.
Many Redskins veterans admired Williams for how he aggressively attacked offenses. Under Williams, Washington’s defense was among the best in the league. Williams’s success helped to inspire loyalty in the locker room.