Most any American who pays attention to professional football has become aware of the devastating consequences of repeated brain concussions. Hundreds of former NFL players, haunted by the reality or specter of early dementia and death, are suing the league for its decades-long failure to acknowledge and curb the risks of traumatic brain injury from repeated blows to the head, many of which have traditionally been intentional.
Targeting blows to the head and other body parts to knock an opposing player out of the game has probably always been a strategy of some players. Regardless, NFL players and coaches began learning years ago that such conduct could no longer be tolerated if the game, and its players, are to have a prosperous and safe future.
The New Orleans Saints apparently didn't get the message. Yahoo Sports' confirmed that Thursday with a report of a documentary film maker's tape of New Orleans' Saints' defensive coordinator Greg Williams exhorting his defensive players to target opponents with punishing blows. Williams' instructions, as reported by The New York Times from the tape of a late-stage playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers in January, are visceral.
The tape captures Williams, who's at the heart of a current Saints' scandal over bounty payments for hits that take opposing players out of the game, encouraging his defensive squad how to hit 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. First he points to his chin, telling them to hit Smith "right there," as he rubs his fingers together to suggest a bounty payment. He continues: "Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head."
Referring to 49ers running back Frank Gore, The Times reported, Williams said. "We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head. We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways."
He reminded the squad of 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams' concussion history and how hits to the head would affect him. Of receiver Michael Crabtree, he exhorted his players to "take out" his knee ligament, The Times reported.
The NFL has moved more aggressively in the past few years to restrict hits to the head, most recently by imposing large fines and suspensions for egregious head hits revealed in reviews of play-by-play tapes examined for every game. Regardless, the Saints' top coaches and manager have apparently condoned or run a bounty program for the past three years, paying bounties of $1,000 to $1,500 for knock-out hits, according to an ongoing NFL investigation. And they were continuing the bounties right up to the time they were eliminated by the 49ers from the playoffs for the Super Bowl this year.
Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely. Considering that the Yahoo tape of the Saints' game with San Francisco was made just two weeks after the NFL informed the Saints their bounty program was under investigation, the Saints managers couldn't have been too alarmed about the investigation, or their reprehensible conduct.
That suggests a stunning degree of indifference and malpractice. If the NFL doesn't aggressively ban such coaches and players, it won't have -- and doesn't deserve -- a future.