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Intentionally injuring opponents is part of the NFL mindset

By Mike Bianchi, The Orlando Sentinel –

ORLANDO, Fla. — We don’t understand.

We just don’t understand.

The brutality and mentality of big-time football is a savage reality that normal people in normal jobs just can’t comprehend.

This became clear to me during a recent conversation with Brad Culpepper, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Florida Gators defensive tackle who is now a prominent attorney in Tampa. While most of us remain shocked and appalled that the New Orleans Saints coaches set up a bounty system where players were encouraged to injure other players and knock them out of games, Culpepper didn’t even seem mildly surprised.

In fact, he said when he broke into the NFL 20 years ago as a 10th-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, his defensive line coach — a man named John Teerlinck — drilled Vikings’ linemen on how to most effectively injure the other team’s quarterback.

“We practiced techniques to injure players,” Culpepper admitted. “We would dive on a mat and aim for the knee portion of a pad like it was the quarterback, and we would practice going at that and trying to bust the quarterback’s knee. You knock the quarterback out, you win the game.”

Culpepper went onto to say there was another barbaric technique the Vikings practiced to try and injure quarterbacks during sacks. “A quarterback … if you pull on their arm and land on their shoulder, you can dislocate (the shoulder) and then they’re out. We used to practice that, too,” he said.

It should be noted that the young defensive coordinator of the Vikings at the time was none other than Tony Dungy, a man who would go onto to become the gold standard for class and civility in the NFL. Then again, when you enter the NFL, it seems you must check class and civility at the door on your way in.

Which is why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is so forcefully coming down on the Saints. He took away draft picks and fined the organization $500,000. He banished head coach Sean Payton from the league for a year and booted former defensive coordinator Greg Williams from the league indefinitely. He even suspended Mickey Loomis, the general manager of the organization.

Good for Goodell for taking on this monumental mission. He is actually trying to drastically change the systematically warped mentality of NFL coaches and players.

The league has evolved some, but not nearly enough. Like Culpepper points out, the knee-busting techniques he was taught 20 years ago were not illegal as they are now. Back then, the quarterback was essentially fair game. Linemen were allowed to hit quarterbacks in the knees and slam them hard to the ground. While the tackling techniques were ruthless, they were entirely within the rules.

“The rules were changed because of these techniques,” Culpepper explains now. “… If you could legally knock the QB out by falling on his shoulder or hitting his knees or taking him out on an interception, well, that was just part of the game – a little like the Deacon Jones head slap. Now it’s illegal and you shouldn’t teach that. They (the techniques) were not nice, but far from illegal as they are now. Twenty years ago it was a different game as it was 20 years before us.”

And 20 years from now, hopefully all of these draconian drills and archaic attitudes will have been legislated out of the game. Football coaches – from high school to the NFL – need to start accepting the fact that they are teaching young men to play a sport, not sending them into mortal combat. The object of the game for a defensive player should be to knock down the offensive player, not knock him out. The object of tackling should be to get your opponent to the ground, not put him in his grave.

The idiotic jock culture of big-time football — both in the NFL and in college — needs to change.

Any sport where coaches teach and encourage players to intentionally maim their opponent is not a sport at all.

It’s a disgrace.

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