Wiedmer: Roger Goodell needs to hit the Saints hard for the good of the NFL

Wiedmer: Roger Goodell needs to hit the Saints hard for the good of the NFL

March 5th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

Get Gregg Williams out of the NFL. Now. If not yesterday. Take his "pay for pain" bounty plan to injure opposing pro football players during his years coaching the New Orleans Saints defense and ban him from the league for the entire 2012 season.

Without pay.

Without time off for better behavior.

Without any hope of appeal.

If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is really serious about cleaning up the NFL, of doing something more than placing a Band-Aid on a compound fracture, he needs to make an unmistakable example of Williams and all who looked the other way, including Saints head coach Sean Payton.

And he needs to do it now, this week, before the nation's news outlets get so caught up in March Madness that they forget current Atlanta Falcons defensive back Coy Wire's description of Williams' actions when he played for him in Buffalo: "Malicious intent."

Here's malicious intent, and the Tennessee Titans -- for whom Williams once worked as a defensive coordinator under former coach Jeff Fisher during the team's 1999 run to the Super Bowl -- were his victims this past season:

During a Week 14 win over the Titans in Nashville, Saints safety Roman Harper was fined $22,500 by the league for a helmet-to-helmet quarterback hit and an unnecessary roughness hit on receiver Damian Williams.

Yet Williams' reaction immediately after the game was as follows:

"If that guy doesn't want his head tore off, duck. Because that's how were playing."

And this is clearly what's wrong with the league, if not the sport in general. Tennessee's Malik Jackson uttered similar words during his first season in Knoxville after transferring in from Southern Cal. Former UT defensive coordinator and current LSU "D" boss John Chavis loves to say, "We want them to know we were here."

But it's not just the Vols or the Saints or the other teams where Williams has worked. It's the game, and the way too many of us -- many of my media brethren included -- have for far too long glorified the violence over the well-excuted open-field tackle or the perfect block.

Look, you're pretty much 100 percent certain to become injured by accident in the NFL. To have somebody knowingly attempt to increase those odds through a bounty system must be stopped and stopped immediately.

But just in case Goodell goes soft, there is some evidence that the American judicial system won't.

A Reuters news service story on Sunday evening recalled that in 2000, Canadian prosecutors brought assault charges against Boston Bruins hockey player Marty McSorley for smashing the Vancouver Canucks' Donald Brashear in the head with a hockey. McSorley was sentenced to 18 months probation and banned from playing during the probation.

Paul Callan -- a former New York City prosecutor -- also told Reuters that if bounties were paid for games played outside a team's home state -- as the Saints-Titans game was -- interstate phone calls, computer use and travel could trigger federal charges ranging from wire fraud, to conspiracy to racketeering. Tax evasion charges would also be possible if the bounties weren't reported to the IRS.

Certainly there is a kind of perverse, dark humor in knowing a team called the Saints was involved in such thuggish, goon-like behavior. Next thing you know we'll find out disgraced figure skater Tanya Harding has re-surfaced as their cheerleader coach.

Beyond that, after watching the Saints in their playoff loss to San Francisco, perhaps they should pay more for tackles than vicious hits.

But there is nothing remotely humorous about this story. If this type of behavior isn't severely dealt with by Goodell, we'll soon see a player carted off in a body bag.

Or as Wire told the Buffalo News over the weekend: "Goodell has to make an example of this. All that we know now with brain trauma and head injuries, this isn't just about taking players out of the game. Significant changes have to be made to protect our players. A precedent has to be set now; otherwise [Goodell] condones it."

In a way, we've all condoned it, if not encouraged it. And that may be the thing that needs to change the most.

Because there's a lot of truth in that at old line about all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Argue all you want about this just being part of the game, but paying for injuries is about as evil as it gets.