The vile practice of paying players to knock other players out of games, known as a "bounty system" to most and referred to as "pay for performance" by longtime defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, was thrown into the spotlight on Friday, when the NFL released a 50,000-page report indicating that with Williams as their defensive coordinator, the New Orleans Saints participated in a system that paid players cash bonuses for hits that knocked opposing players -- most notably marquee quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Kurt Warner -- from games.
When the report came out, Williams -- now the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator -- tried to engage in damage control with this statement:
"I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, [Saints owner Tom] Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the 'pay for performance' program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."
Problem is, this wasn't something that first occurred to Williams in New Orleans. According to a report by the Washington Post, Williams had something very similar rigged up when he was the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator from 2004 through 2007.
Three of the players described a coach who doled out thousands of dollars to Redskins defenders who measured up to Williams' scoring system for rugged play, including "kill shots" that knocked opposing teams' stars out of a game.
"You got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits," said one former player, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Players said compensation ranged from "hundreds to thousands of dollars," with the biggest sum any player received believed to be about $8,000.
"I never took it for anything [but] just incentive to make good, hard plays," said a current player, who requested anonymity. "But I'm pretty sure it did entice some guys to do more to a player than normal when it came to taking them out. I mean, that's cash. Let's just be honest about it.["]
Defensive end Phillip Daniels was the only player willing to go on the record, according to the Post's Mark Maske. Daniels, who currently serves as the Redskins' director of player development, defended Williams' practices.
"I think it is wrong the way they're trying to paint [Williams]," Daniels added. "He never told us to go out there and break a guy's neck or break a guy's leg. It was all in the context of a good, hard football."
One anonymous player recalled Williams saying that "If you cut the snake's head off, the body will die."
"It was made clear that he was talking about not just running backs who turned their heads the opposite way and how they would go down, but also about other stars on offense that were the best players on that team," the player told Maske.
In the wake of the allegations against the Saints, and these subsequent revelations, two questions must be asked: First, what is to be done with Williams? Those naive enough to believe that he's the only one implementing such a system in the modern NFL would tend to side with the notion that Williams should be banned from the NFL for life, and that there is no place for such things in football.
Second: What is to be done about the "bounty" practice? Those who know the history of the NFL understand that these bounties go back decades. Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan was famous for it, and Williams now works for Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who played and coached under Ryan. If Fisher fires Williams, can he do so with a straight face and without a hint of hypocrisy?
When the SpyGate scandal broke in 2007, ex-coach and current Fox Sports analyst Jimmy Johnson was asked about the practice that cost Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots a first-round draft pick and a total of $750,000 in fines. Johnson's response was clear, and precisely what the NFL didn't want anyone to say -- that if anyone thought that the Patriots were the only ones doing this, they must be nuts.
The bounty system is a long-held idea that has managed to escape public notice for a number of years. If Roger Goodell is as serious about player safety as he says he is, his next act must be to take Williams' punishment out of the hands of the men he works with and has known for decades. He must take this in hand and say to the world that, indeed, a new and very serious sheriff is in town.
Goodell's next act must be to realize that Williams' apology is completely hollow, that his repugnant modus operandi will remain under other names and guises unless it is killed forever, and that removing Williams from the game on a lifetime basis is the best way to start.
Gregg Williams said it best: If you cut the snake's head off, the body will die.
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