Over the past month an incredible story has broke regarding dangers to the personal safety of NFL players. The New Orleans Saints have been thoroughly investigated for engaging in a practice that resulted in their own players being offered bribes or “bounties” to target certain body parts of key players on opposing teams. This was in an effort to effectively remove them from the game as they recieve medical attention.
Former defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams has been named as the instigator of such practices within the Saints organisation. Despite having moved on during this off-season to the St Louis Rams, Williams has been suspended indefinitely by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, with similarly tough punishments being handed down to Head Coach Sean Payton who has received a one-year suspension and General Manager Mickey Loomis whom has been suspended for six months. Williams has chosen not to appeal the action whereas Payton has launched an appeal to have the suspension reduced. Payton was invited to a meeting with Goodell on Thursday to contest his involvement within the scandal.
Moments before Payton’s appeal took place, more damning evidence emerged in the form of legitimate audio recorded by film-maker Sean Pamphilon. At the risk of damaging his relationship with Steve Gleason, the special teams star on whom his work was specifically about, Pamphilon submitted a pre-game speech conducted by Gregg Williams, urging Saints players to inflict bodily harm on several San Francisco 49ers players before their playoff game earlier this year. Remarks included were aimed at 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, running back Frank Gore , and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams. Pamphilon maintains that the material would not have seen the light of day had the scandal not come out. He has defended his submission of the audio to Yahoo Sports reporter Michael Silver on moral grounds.
Several Saints players have responded via Twitter and other measures, damning Pamphilon and re-iterating that most of what is heard within the material can be heard in locker rooms throughout the NFL, specifically the brutal tone and profanity. However the remarks regarding targeting body parts, one of which can be overheard as being an ACL, have been universally derided. In some of Pamphillon’s film Williams can be visibly seen making the “money” gesture during games.
Much of Goodell’s clampdown not only originates from his desire to have a no-nonsense approach when it comes to player safety, but also because similar accusations were made of the Saints one season ago, to which all parties involved denied. Goodell’s fury at having being deceived and by the Saints continual deployment of such schemes have resulted in these hefty punishments which also stretch to matters not just within the staff, as the Saints were docked two second round draft picks.
In further development, Steve Gleason has explicitly said that he did not authorise the recording of the pre-match speech made by Williams before the Niners game. Whether Goodell is considering this new evidence when he announces the decision on the appeal is anybody’s guess. One has to believe that the audio, if listened to, will probably result in Williams having near to no chance of reinstatement. Phrases such as “Kill the head and the body will die” and “Hit him in the head, we want him running sideways” certainly will strike a chord with some, though it is impossible to deny that football is a rough sport and the inherent dangers should be nothing new to anybody.
It will be interesting to see in the coming months whether key defensive players such as Jonathan Vilma (pictured) will be implicated. Former ferocious defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned analyst Warren Sapp has since chimed in, claiming the speech from Williams to be an anomaly and “heinous”.