I love football. Despite the comments I may have made after the last super bowl, it is my favorite sport to watch and I’m already looking forward to the new season beginning. As proof of how obsessed I am, I will admit to watching hours of live NFL Combine coverage on the NFL Network. I subscribe to Red Zone, watch as many games as I can, and read tons of articles about the league and players. However, the league I love is at a crossroads. We are about to learn the character of the NFL and how serious they are about making the game safe, competitive and fair.
As you probably know, Gregg Williams (current Defensive Coordinator for the Rams) is in New York today to meet with NFL investigators who are looking into pay-for-performance funds he administered while a coach with the Saints, Redskins, Bills and Titans. These funds are strictly against NFL rules, because they violate the salary cap but, what makes it worse, is that players could, allegedly, earn money by injuring their opponents. Not beating them, not outplaying them, but injuring them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at this ESPN article which sums it up.
As despicable as this is, I do feel a bit bad for Williams and the other folks who were a part of these “bounty” funds. I have no doubt that many, if not most, NFL teams have something like this. And, truth be told, this is coming out at the worst possible time given the renewed focus from the league on keeping players safe. The NFL HAS to make an example of the Saints and the players/coaches who were involved and send the message that this type of behavior can not be tolerated. And, if other teams are found to have had similar programs, I hope they are punished in the same way. When push comes to shove, this isn’t just about sending a message to current NFL players. This is about the league making a stand and telling kids all over the world who dream of playing on Sunday afternoons that fair play is crucial and cheaters don’t win. The NFL has the chance to show that anyone who engages in this sort-of conduct – player, coach or owner – will be held accountable.
That is why, in my opinion, anything less than a full season suspension for Gregg Williams, would be a travesty. Commish, Roger Goodell, has become very good at punishing players for flagrant hits and other offenses and now he can make the point that those in suits can be just as culpable. If not for the fact that, apparently, Williams has been very cooperative with the investigation, I would have suggested a lifetime ban. That said, the facts as we know them (he’s done this with at least 3 teams over the course of 7 years) certainly do encourage lifetime ban to be in the conversation.
As for the others involved, I do believe that fines and suspensions, along with loss of draft picks, is appropriate. Without knowing all the details of who knew/did what, it’s hard to know for sure what is deserved. But you can bet the whole NFL community – fans, players, alumni, prospects, advertisers, coaches, employees etc… – will be watching closely to see if all the rhetoric about safety is for real or if it was all just a well-done and convincing PR stunt. Is that fair? Probably not. But then again, neither paying players to injure their opponents. That’s not just against the rules, it is borderline criminal.