- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Much as the NFL might want it to, the Great Bounty Scandal of 2012 isn’t going to go away any time soon. And if there were any hopes along those lines, filmmaker Sean Pamphilon dashed them last week when he released an audio of Gregg Williams, the New Orleans Saints‘ former defensive coordinator, exhorting his players to target the head, knee and ankles of various San Francisco 49ers.

In the ‘60s, Vince Lombardi stood on the Green Bay sideline and yelled: “Everybody’s grabbing out there. Nobody’s tackling. Grab, grab, grab. Put your shoulders in there out there.”

Before a playoff game in January, Williams stood before his mercenaries and told them: “We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head.”

And: “[Michael Crabtree] becomes human when we … take out that outside ACL.”

And: “We need to decide how many times we can bull rush and … put Vernon Davis’s ankles over the pile.”

At times, it almost sounded like a biology lecture, like Williams was standing in front of a skeleton with a pointer. It was that clinical.

How did we get from there to here? How did we get from Lombardi saying, “Put your shoulders in there,” to Williams saying, “Kill Frank Gore’s head”? I know, I know. Football always has been, as a general manager once put it, “an animal sport.” And make no mistake, things could get plenty rough in Vince’s day, back when the head slap and the crack-back block still were legal.

But when you hear Williams‘ words, well, it makes you understand why teams play such games with their injury reports. If there are defensive coaches out there who are that anatomically specific about where to deliver a blow …

I’ll let others debate, in their self-righteous indignation, whether Pamphilon might have breached some journalistic law by releasing the audio, which reportedly was made without Williams‘ knowledge. I’ll just point out that in the minds of most rational beings, human law supersedes journalistic law, so why shouldn’t he have let the world eavesdrop on the Saints‘ meeting room?

Besides, isn’t this what people have spent the past several months crucifying members of the Penn State athletic department for — not being proactive enough when confronted with a serious problem? Granted, we’re talking about two different problems here, one affecting the well-being of children, the other the well-being of grown men. But should it matter? I mean, don’t we all wish graduate assistant Mike McQueary had gone public, just like Pamphilon has, after Nittany Lions officials failed to investigate fully his accusations against defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky?

Who cares, really, what Pamphilon’s motivations are, whether they’re pure or self-promotional or somewhere in between? Isn’t pro football better served in the long run when its more reprehensible aspects are dragged into the daylight? Now we don’t have to speculate about what goes on behind closed doors in the NFL. Now we know unequivocally. It’s just a question of how many Gregg Williamses there are in the league. Five? Ten? Thirty-two? Or did Gregg go one step further than everybody else?

Pamphilon was given free rein by the Saints because he was shooting a documentary on former New Orleans special teamer Steve Gleason, who’s suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease — a condition that may well have been caused by playing football. But the filmmaker stumbled into a far bigger story, and one that’s just as disturbing.

You ask yourself: Is this the only way Williams felt he could reach his players, whip them into the requisite frenzy — by dangling cash bonuses for dangerous hits and suggesting where those hits should be directed? If so, it’s a colossal failure of imagination, an indication he’s overstayed his time in the coaching profession. Clearly, he’s out of tricks, out of gimmicks, out of healthy methods for inspiring athletes. All he can do is appeal to their baser instincts: This is war. Kill or be killed.

And what of the players themselves? Now that amphetamines are out, are they unable, by natural means, to get sufficiently geeked up for games? Are the old standbys — glory, fame, job insecurity (or the prospect of a bigger contract) — no longer enough? To get in touch with their inner Butkuses, do they actually need a coach who preaches the Gospel of Bloodlust?

No, the Great Bounty Scandal of 2012 isn’t going to go away for awhile. There are too many questions that need answering, some of which we may not even have thought of yet. But thanks to Pamphilon, the picture is coming into clearer focus. And it’s getting uglier by the day.

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