In any scandal, it’s about following the money. The New Orleans Saints learned that hard lesson when the NFL found they had orchestrated a bounty system that paid players for injuring opponents and knocking them out of games. Suspensions and fines followed.
Don’t think the Washington Redskins and the rest of the league didn’t take notice.
“I think obviously with the way [commissioner] Roger Goodell handled the bounty situation, there’s definitely a culture change that has taken place in the NFL,” middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “If you had incentives before, you’re not doing anything like that anymore.”
In losing coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma to season-long suspensions and assistant Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis to shorter bans, the Saints took the brunt of the fallout. But with a “culture change” comes a different way of life for Redskins coaches and players.
And while former Redskins defensive back Matt Bowen wrote in the Chicago Tribune earlier this year that ex-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran a similar system in Washington, the NFL has cleared the team of wrongdoing, and the impact moving forward is more about coaches having a sharper awareness of what they can and can’t say.
“There’s a certain way you talk about playing defense, playing football, certain phrases that you would use that they want to be a little bit more careful about using just because you never know who has what on them as far as recording with technology these days,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I’ve definitely heard several coaches [be] careful the way they use their words or if they say something, they say, ‘Well, I don’t mean it like that, but you know what I mean.’”
The so-called “culture of football” is about hitting and going hard every snap. But Williams earned an indefinite suspension for being the mastermind of the Saints‘ bounty system and for recorded comments that went over the line.
“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head,” Williams said, referring to the San Francisco 49ers running back. “We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways.”
According to a review by The Washington Times this summer, more than 3,400 former NFL players have sued the league over concussions. Rules have been refined in recent years to limit hits to defenseless players, and enforcement of fines has been stepped up.
“It’s kind of hard to go out there and play reckless now,” Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson said. “You’ve got to be careful how you hit a guy, if you’re using [your] helmet, if you’re using your shoulder pads, where you’re hitting ‘em. You’ve just got to be a smart player overall.”
With the possibility of someone recording what’s said in the locker room, it’s up to players and coaches to choose their words wisely. Jackson and others recognize that speeches typically can’t be taken literally and often sound worse than what was intended.
“We’re all professionals here. We all want to go out there and play physical, but ultimately, we don’t want to see people get hurt and injured because this is our livelihood, and the coaches are the same way,” defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. “I think [coaches are] more conscientious of just saying what they really mean instead of exaggerating.”
Jackson noted that the language this preseason was a lot less “violent” than in the past. There’s less talk of killing and hurting and more about making good, hard tackles.
Players have even picked up on coaches stopping to clarify what they meant.