The case against Gregg Williams, the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011, continues to grow. After admitting and apologizing on Friday for a bounty pool that rewarded his players for "knockouts" and "cart-offs," Williams was expected to meet with NFL officials on Monday.
Their discussion will cover much more than his three seasons with the Saints. Prior to arriving in New Orleans, he was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars and head coach for the Buffalo Bills. Since news of the Saints' bounty program broke last week, players on Williams' former teams said that he instituted similar systems there, too.
The case shines a harsh light on a thin line: the difference between hitting as hard (and cleanly) as possible and hitting with malicious intent in hopes of causing an injury. Players who engaged in the latter have done a tremendous disservice to themselves and their fellow players, countering a recent push to make the game safer.
"I know players hate [the new rules]," Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, a member of the players union's executive committee, said during Super Bowl week. "We get fined and we get suspended and all kinds of things. But if this saves a guy from his wife having to take care of him when he's 50 years old, I'm all for it."
Intentionally trying to hurt an opponent is no way to show concern for his overall and long-term health. The game carries enough risk without adding an element of "bonuses" for particularly vicious hits.
But that's what happened allegedly in Buffalo, where former Bills safety Coy Wire said that Williams established an environment of "malicious intent." In D.C., a former Redskins player told the Washington Post that under Williams, "you got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits."
The NFL has reveled in "kill shots" and marketed them accordingly for years, putting the league on a slippery slope as it legislates the violence that fans love. Defensive players by nature try to "hurt" offensive players, but not necessarily hurt them. Unfortunately, they're removed from the field sometimes on a stretcher, with a neck brace and no feeling in their arms and legs.
I seriously doubt that anyone in a bounty program was looking to maim or seriously injure an opponent. But monetary bonuses for hits that could lead to such devastating results send a terrible message. Such a system not only brings a player's intentions into question but also suggests a lack of concern and humanity toward fellow players.
Unlike NBA analyst Charles Barkley, who said "You have to be a punk to snitch that out," I think the Saints' whistle-blowers should be commended. The bounty system goes against good sportsmanship and the spirit of brotherhood that should exist between NFL players — even as they try to knock each other into next week.
If they do it cleanly and within the spirit of the game, so be it.
But paying bounties is against the rules for good reason: It makes a fine line murky when discernment is hard enough already. As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, prohibiting bounties "promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity."
Those elements should concern NFL players more than anyone. Just as ignoring those elements can hurt NFL players more than anyone — no matter which side of the ball they're on.