Post columnist Tom Boswell addressed numerous questions on the NFL’s “Bountygate” during his Monday morning online chat. Here is some of what he said:

Q. Gregg Williams’s Bounty

My understanding is that this has been going on with Williams with different organizations for over a decade. Since players come and go, and since they all talk to each other, it’s safe to assume this system was wide known for a while now, yet until now no players cared enough to speak up. Is that a) a sign that it’s not that big of a deal or b) that this is part of a culture that needs to change in the NFL? I’m leaning towards b).

A. Thomas Boswell :

The answer is definitely “b.” The NFL has a huge problem and “public relations” is the least of it.

The reason this info about bounties has not come out before is NOT because it is “no big deal,” but, rather, because it is SO big a deal.

It’s the most despicable thing you can do in sports __offer a cash bonus to a player to deliberately injure another player. When the DC, the head coach and the GM appear to have knowledge of the situation (in New Orleans), it’s even uglier. It shows a deep institutional moral rot __in the Saints, at the least, but through other parts of the NFL, too.

The reason, imo, that so many “sources” have come forward so fast the instant this Saints scandal became publc is because so many players hate the bounty system or feel deeply conflicted about doing it or are in a desperate hurry to rationalize what they did as merely “hard, tough football.” If you play for a team that offers bounties, what are you going to do, say, “I won’t take the money and I won’t hit-to-maim. So cut me.” (Goodbye.)

I was sorry to see Phillip Daniels in the midst of the mess. He was the Skins player who bent Peyton Manning over backwards, ripped off his helmet, injured his neck and, perhaps, began Manning’s history of neck problems back in ‘06. If Gregg Williams had never existed, you’d look at that play and say, “Daniels has a good reputation. Give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s his job to blast the QB. This hit just turned out looking REALLY ugly. But he probably wasn’t really trying to tear his head off.” But Williams did exist and so did the Skins bounty system __Bowen even wrote a column describing it in the Chicago Sun Times__ bewcomes part of the picture. Does Daniels still the benefit of the doubt? For me, yes. Because I know him. For some others, probably not.

Q. Joe Gibbs

Any other head coach who said, I had no idea this was going on, I would say, yeah, sure. But Joe, I believe him. The man always struck me as a rock of integrity and I would be really crushed if those illusions were to be shattered.

A. Thomas Boswell :

I believe Gibbs. We’ll see what else comes out, but I thought his choice of words showed how intensely he felt and, I’m sure, how embarrassed that this happened on his team (according to a half-dozen people) forr several years. “I would never ask a player to hurt another player. Never...I’m shocked by this.”

Playing football with the deliberate intent to cause injury (and get paid specifically for causing an injury) is despicable. It’s completely different than being a hard-hitting player or an aggressive team. And it’s totally different than paying for Big Plays, which is against NFL rules, but a minor problem compared to bounties for injuries.

We all use the expression, “That is over the line.” We apply it to many areas of life, including raising our children. There are also LEVELS of “going over the line” in bending or breaking the rules that we set whether those rules are in politics, business or the NFL. “Spygate” was cheating. But it’s nothing compared to paying bounties for injuries. That is AS FSAR OVER THE LINE as you can go in football except perhaps for “throwing” a game for gamblers. But when you hit-to-injure, especially around the head and spine, you could kill or permanently injury an opponent. Wouldn’t that be even worse than throwing a game? So, ss far as I can tell, it’s the ultimate crime against the integrity of the sport you play. What would be greater __just carry a weapon onto the field? (When I played in high school the worst I ever heard was from a player on another team who said that, in a previous game, they’d caught a player on the other team with a knife.)

Q. Ban Williams for life

I think Goodell needs to make an example out of Williams and ban him from the NFL for life. He was the ring leader, and if you ban him no other defensive coordinator is going to risk doing what he did. If Pete Rose could be banned from baseball for gambling, Williams can be banned from the NFL for head hunting,

A. Thomas Boswell :

No punishment, including “life” would bother me. But I suspect it will be a year.

The NFL is looking into the Redskins and Williams. The key difference between the Saints and Redskins __and it will probably be important__ is that New Orleans got “caught in the act.” The GM and head coach are still in place in N.O., so a punishment of the Saints __loss of draft picks included__ is appropriate because you are punishing the actual villains in the team’s chain of command.

Williams was with the Skins in ‘04-’07? The head coach is gone. The GM is gone. Williams is long gone. Nobody thinks that owners are involved in $1,000 locker room bounty payoffs. So, who are you punishing?

By that logic, don’t you have to go back to Williams days in Buffalo __and there are already several sources talking about a similar system there w the Bills.

Until we hear otherwise, I think Williams will get crushed __he deserves it, but also makes a great scapgoat fof the league__ and the Saints will get hit hard. Then the NFL can say, “This is what will happen __or worse__ to ANYBODY who ever tries this again. And we’ll be looking for it.”

I’ll be very interested to see the long-term impact of these bounties __and the sense that they have been widespread for many years, but always a dark secret__ on top of the studies on concussions to former players.

The NFL’s reputation has always been deeply suspect __a guilty American pleasure, one which I include in my list of lifelong pleasures. As far back as “North Dallas Forty,” the public has known that players themselves sense that they are viewed as interchangeable hunks of meat. At what point does a significant portion of the public say, “Man, the underpinning of this league really is raw violence and almost total disregard for the health of players. Do I really LOVE this game or just kind of like it but feel queasy about it?”

I only played seven years, up through high school and I thought that the sport was tough, dangerous, even at lower levels, but fine-by-me as long as there was genuine concern about safety and some level of sportsmanship. But that concern for safety and some basic level of decency was essential __yes, right up through the pros. It’s not too much to ask.

(I still remember one of our players being taken off on a stretcher with the ambulance actually driving onto the field. I’ve stayed in touch with that old SSSAS player __David Speck, later in the Va House of Delegates__ and he says nobody has even gotten to much attention for what just turned out to be a stinger.)

More on NFL bounties:

NFL to investigate Redskins over bounty allegations under Gregg Williams

Mike Wise: Another player sheds light on ‘an ugly tradition’

Redskins offered bounties for big hits under Williams

Joe Gibbs: “I would never ask a player to hurt another player’

Mike Wise: Gregg Williams’s true nature exposed

NFL statement on New Orleans Saints

How widespread are bounties?