By Monte Poole, The Oakland Tribune –
No matter the results of any investigation, or how much evidence is uncovered and presented, nothing ever hits an unaware public with more force than an actual recording.
A recording is twice better than a smoking gun because it makes witnesses of us all, and in perpetuity.
And now a single recording exposes the brutal underside of America’s abiding sports passion, NFL football as millions have come to know — and love.
The incriminating audio recording released Thursday by Yahoo! Sports was supplied by documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who spent much of the 2011 season with the New Orleans Saints, now infamous for operating a “bounty” system wherein defensive players were financially rewarded for intentionally injuring opponents.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the alleged mastermind of the program and already serving an indefinite suspension from the league, is heard exhorting his unit to deliberately hurt members of the 49ers in the Jan. 14 NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park.
Williams urges his players to see if 49ers wideout Kyle Williams really has recovered from a concussion sustained three weeks earlier against Seattle and implores them to target the heads of quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore.
The assistant doesn’t stop there. He also wants his troops to attack the ankles of tight end Vernon Davis and to test the will of wideout Michael Crabtree, reminding them to “take out that outside ACL,” a clear and direct reference to the most common knee injury sustained by professional athletes.
The audio, recorded in a meeting the night before the game against the 49ers, is profane and ugly, a veteran professional football coach preaching not only violence but bloodlust.
If only this were dramatically different from the preachings of other coaches.
The NFL’s problem here is that it knows Williams’ words are only slightly more twisted than those routinely uttered by hyped-up coaches and players at most levels of football, from high school to the NFL. It’s a rare pregame speech that does not make some reference to beating up the other team.
Where Williams crossed the line is with specifics — he put bull’s-eyes on individuals and body parts — and the implication of financial reward for those who successfully carried out his vision.
Understand, though, the NFL is fully aware of what it sells. It sells sheer violence, often brutal and always for maximum profit, in a cleverly designed and masterfully marketed package.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is filled with defensive players who were better than their peers at ratcheting up the violence and being able to execute their desires to punish offensive players.
Retired defensive back Ronnie Lott, who earned his stripes with the 49ers, is a legitimate NFL legend. His Hall enshrinement was greased by his reputation for intimidation, which was earned by his propensity for violent collisions, some of which temporarily disabled opponents.
Lott referred to those hits as “woo licks,” because they prompted crowds to respond with a prolonged “wooo.” The “wooo” was an expression of admiration.
NFL fans expect violence and often relish it as part of the game, just as knockouts are to boxing and blood is to the hugely prosperous mixed martial arts. We’ve seen enough footage over the years that, if we were paying full attention, we would not be surprised by such rhetoric as that uttered by Gregg Williams.
It’s politically incorrect to equate sports to war, but is football not a form of hand-to-hand combat? Does it not purposefully test toughness and push the limits of pain? Are actual body parts not sacrificed or compromised?
Players are instruments of combat, and hundreds of them end up limping around or gobbling painkillers or simply trying to exist in a post-concussion world of white noise and maddening confusion.
Every so often, one of them does something insane or surrenders to his hourly agony by taking his life.
Far too often that is the undesired payoff after years of dedication to coaches and teammates — to the game of football.
Players are willing weapons, and coaches like Gregg Williams are paid to load them.
The release of this recording puts the NFL is in a public relations bind because Commissioner Roger Goodell and his fellow executives realize the speech is not that of some rogue coach ranting out of his mind. The vast majority of it is typical pep talk.
But it’s out in the open, a crisis the NFL has to address. And the league, knowing what it does about its business, already knows there is no easy solution.