Former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason is a hero to both the city of New Orleans and to people like him that suffer from ALS. Today, however, Gleason is not a hero—he's just another cog in the machine that covered up and attempted to excuse the behavior of Gregg Williams and the New Orleans Saints.
News broke yesterday over Sean Pamphilon's release of locker room audio, featuring former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in a fiery pre-game speech. In this speech, before last year's playoff contest between the Saints and the San Francisco 49ers, Williams was heard instructing players to go after the head of a player with a history of concussions and to go after a player's ACL.
Williams also, allegedly, handed out bounty money and offered bounty money for the upcoming game during this meeting—a blatant slap in the face of ongoing warnings from the league offices.
As more details trickled out, it appears as if Pamphilon's release of the recorded audio wasn't as black-and-white as originally thought.
Pamphilon wasn't in the Saints locker room that day as a member of the media. He was there as a friend of Gleason's and was making a documentary about Gleason's life that would be used to help Gleason's children remember their father if and when he passes away from complications of ALS.
So, it is easy (and perhaps correct) to call out Pamphilon as a glory-seeking privateer who is taking advantage of his connections to make a name for himself.
However, underneath all of the talk about whether Pamphilon had the right to release these tapes is a very real question; if Gleason knew what was going on, why wasn't he the whistleblower?
Gleason, as I've mentioned, is part of the Saints family. Though he was "just" a special teams player, his play after Hurricane Katrina ignited the city. There are Saints fans who will always look up to Gleason as a model of picking yourself up when you're down.
Here, however, Gleason failed.
In his very own statement, Gleason points out the very real connection between head injuries and ALS. Though he attempts to gloss over it by pointing out he's interested in the cure more than the cause, Gleason knows that repeated head trauma is very possibly the the reason he is already preparing for his own death.
How then can Gleason come off as high and mighty while he sat silently as Williams encouraged, commended and incentivized head shots?
Gleason had the same information as Pamphilon and, by any realistic expectation, has known about Williams bounty system for a while. He knew that Williams' rhetoric went further than the average pre-game speech. Gleason knew that Williams was asking players to injure out players and to put other players, intentionally, at a greater risk for the very disease Gleason is trying to stamp out.
Gleason is a hero, but he clearly values being a New Orleans Saint over being any kind of a moral saint.
Ethically and legally, it appears that Pamphilon is in the wrong, but morally, it's hard (regardless of any possible self-serving motives) to say that he didn't do the right thing. What Williams and the Saints were doing was clearly wrong and possibly criminal.
Morally, Gleason put his Saints family in front of what he should've known was right and, regardless of all the good he's done, should be ashamed for staying silent.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.
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