It's hard to believe that any NFL coach would speak openly of injuring players after everything that went down with Gregg Williams and the Saints, but that's exactly what the NFL is looking at today.
Jerry Gray, coordinator of the Tennessee Titans' struggling defense, talked about his wish for his players to forget about potential fines as opposing receivers come across the middle of the field. He may have taken things a little too far when he alluded to opposing players being carted off. Courtesy of Jim Wyatt at The Tennessean:
"If you are worrying about that, you are not going to go out and try and blow the guy up," Gray said Thursday. "Great football players have to put that out of their mind. You have to say, 'This is my territory between the numbers, and if you throw the football you better bring the Gator truck.' And that's how you have to play. You can't play timid in the NFL."
The Gator is a utility vehicle teams use to transport severely injured players off the field.
I was with him right up until the part about the Gator. That's too far.
ESPN's Ed Werder reports that the NFL will review the comments. It probably doesn't help Gray's case that he's worked under Gregg Williams in the past, but I don't know what sort of action the NFL can take here based on these comments alone. Then again, Roger Goodell has surprised me before.
Gray, to his credit, expressed regret at mentioning the Gator truck.
"This is football, but my choice of words under the circumstances was probably bad,'' he said. "If I could take that part of it back, I would. I don't want guys thinking about injuring people, and when you say 'Gator truck' that's probably what comes up. I just want our guys to be tougher.''
It's fine to want your guys to be tougher, and it's fine to want guys to forget about fines while they're playing. It's probably even still OK to talk about "blowing a guy up." But when you talk about a player getting carted off, you're talking about serious injury, and you can't encourage that. You just can't.
Again, I don't believe the NFL will end up taking any action here, but they can't ignore it, either. These are dangerous words, even if Gray didn't mean it to come out like that. This can't turn into a situation where the league and the coaches are at odds. It can't be that the league is emphasizing player safety, and coaches are saying, "Forget about player safety, let's get that Gator truck out here."
That's exactly what Gray's comments do, and if it's coaches vs. the league for the hearts and minds of players, coaches are going to win every time. They're the ones who determine who plays. They determine who starts. They determine who gets a paycheck to play in the NFL.
Gray is a former defensive back himself, and earned a reputation as a hard-hitter in an era when there wasn't much concern about concussions or blows to the head. The game has changed, though, or at least perceptions and attitudes about it have. Things aren't like they were in the late '80s when Jerry Gray was blowing people up and making Pro Bowls.
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