Before the audio was released, "Bounty Gate" was not a something that seemed right or wrong.
Let's be honest: football is a tough game. If you go out every night trying to physically punish your opponent by putting your shoulder into his gut, side, or upper chest area, go ahead. If you make a big hit, knocking the wind out of the ball carrier, making him dizzy so the medical staff has to come on the field (yes, that's possible with a legal hit), well congratulations on a big play. You bought your team an advantage for awhile by playing a man's game at full speed.
The fact that money was involved always makes things complicated, too. These players getting paid for their actions adds the feeling that it was taboo, but I don't believe in this connection. If you go into a game not feeling motivated, you may have a problem against any opponent who is hungry and eager to play. If Williams needed to bring some dough into the equation to get his guys pumped to do their job, so be it.
But, the defense's job is to stop the offense by any means necessary—provided those means are within the rules of the game.
When it is the goal of the defense to "take out that outside ACL," we have a problem. When we have players trying to take other players out of the game via illegal hits and plays that are against the rules, we have a problem.
We heard Williams instructing his guys to do "everything in the world to make sure [they] kill Frank Gore's head." If there is anything we should have learned from all the recent attempts by the NFL to clean up its act, it is that there is no justifiable reason for targeting the head.
It is this single instruction that I believe will get Williams and the Saints' players in the most trouble.
Williams is directly violating rules that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has set up to make a substantial effort to curb head injuries.
From Article 9 of the NFL Rulebook:
(b) Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is: Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area
Attacking a player's head is blatantly against the rules, but the recording of Williams shows he didn't feel that rule applied to him and his players.
The audio, released by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, enhances any arguments the NFL may have against Williams and his players, leading to possible suspensions for deliberately going against NFL Policy.
Some have made comparisons to boxing in advocating the Saints' players' behavior, noting how their job is to weaken their opponents by hitting their weak spots.
In this comparison, though, the "weak spots" in boxing are referring to the side of the body under the ribs or any other part that appears weakened. Hitting these "weak spots" does not entail taking a swing at your opponent below the belt.
That is what the Saints' players were essentially doing when they went for ACLs, ankles and the head—all of which were mentioned in the audio.
This new audio of Williams demanding that his players break rules to take players out of the game changes everything. Before, I looked at legal hits the Saints made that just seemed brutal, and noted how they are part of the game and that we should just let the players play. Injuring players in illegal ways, however, is not part of the game.
Gregg Williams should be banned from the NFL. We all know the effects that shots to the head can have on players later on in their life. Williams has become an advocate of behavior that leads to these effects—and subsequent problems. There is no doubt that Williams will receive a harsh penalty, and deservedly so.
As for those who carried out these orders—although the reasoning that Williams may be used as a scapegoat in the players' appeals contains some validity—the players aren't entirely out of the water just yet.
This newly released audio will lower the ensuing punishments on the players, but it does not vindicate their decision to act this way; they will still receive stiff penalties that takes them out of the game for a long time.
Frankly, if they felt what they were doing was wrong, these players could have stood up and walked out of the locker room—or at the very least confronted Williams about it behind closed doors. Any player who was involved in this behavior should get a punishment similar to Williams'.
To play devil's advocate, there is a lot of pressure that goes along with playing on a team and listening to a coach whom you are supposedly to pledge your allegiance to, but Saints players should be able to think for themselves.
Before this audio was released, the Saints players hitting harder and playing faster just meant they were more devoted. But after listening to the audio, it is clear players were led to believe going out of their way to hurt opposing players in ways that clearly are not allowed was a smart decision. That is why Williams and his players should receive penalties close to—or that equate to—expulsion from the league.
Williams did not appeal his indefinite suspension earlier this week, but the NFL will have to make a decision about what to do with him eventually. When they do, Goodell should act swiftly and forcefully to make sure this behavior never continues.
Head coach Sean Payton, assistant coach Joe Vitt and GM Mickey Loomis don't need to be discussed too much.
Payton is charged with lying to NFL investigators and telling his people to lie. His suspension will still be great regardless of how Goodell feels about his appeal. Loomis and Vitt may have a case that comes back to their lack of knowledge, but that shouldn't soften the punishments that much.
The NFL must let everyone know that anyone involved in intentionally hurting players through illegal means will pay a heavy price.