Defending Gregg Williams is an untenable position. In the convoluted Bountygate mess, where proof of participation was hard to ascertain with any certainty, he was the one guy who obviously was guilty of sadistic behavior. Investigators had him on tape, screaming “kill the head and the body will die.”
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And that savagery played as a soundtrack while so many NFL bodies were dying because their heads were killed.
And this is why Gregg Williams absolutely had to be reinstated.
The NFL finally got around to welcoming him back to the family Thursday, the last one, thus opening the door for him to be hired as a senior assistant coach in Tennessee. This is good for one — and only one — reason as far as I can tell. It stops Gregg Williams from being the scapegoat any longer.
Because as long as he remained banned, it was too easy for everybody to pretend the league had a Gregg Williams problem instead of a straight-up violence problem. It was too easy to pretend he, like that disgusting uncle always telling sexist jokes at family functions, was an aberration, a black sheep, the only defensive coordinator to tell his players to make an opponent “decide whether they want to be a (bleeping) prima donna or a tough guy” by laying his ass out. This requires a leap of disingenuity I am not willing to play along with.
It is a fairy tale, this idea that Gregg Williams was singular in his lack of regard for the health of his opponents.
The reality is it is a matter of degrees, Williams simply being the worst offender. That we know of is probably a necessary rejoinder. The game is playing by the very “win-at-all-costs” ethos Williams was caught on tape espousing when he told his players to target Alex Smith’s chin and Michael Crabtree’s ACL and Frank Gore’s head and especially Kyle Williams’ already concussed brain. Now ask yourself, what is disturbing? That coaches think this way? Or that he was brazen enough to say so? Or that he was stupid enough to get caught?
Everybody is talking about San Francisco’s last goal-line play in the Super Bowl. It is all the rage to debate whether the officials wrongly swallowed their whistles on what looked to be a possible pass interference on the fourth-down play near the goal line at the end of the game. The truth is, if the officials had correctly called the helmet-to-helmet hit on Crabtree the previous play, it would not have mattered. It is a call they made all year. It goes to the very heart of what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was talking about in his state-of-the-shield address Friday of Super Bowl week. It is exactly the kind of play Williams was calling for in his now infamous pregame speech before the NFC Championship Game. The fact it went uncalled speaks to how the NFL really feels: When it really, really matters, you do anything — even dangerous vicious things, especially dangerous vicious things — to win.
What got Williams and Saints coach Sean Payton and a few players suspended was less about the Saints’ on-field actions and more that their inner workings were splayed open by Bountygate for all to dissect. I am afraid this has allowed us to pretend that Saturday meetings in other cities are all about preaching safety first and talking about their moral obligations to their fellow players. This is so ridiculous in its fantasyland premise it does not warrant discussion.
Does Gregg Williams deserve a second chance?
This is one of those questions that speak more to our individual beliefs on whether some things are unforgivable and on second chances. It also, more than likely, speaks to our own need of grace at some point. I believe in second chances, almost without exception.
Williams just happens to be my exception. I had a Saints person tell me during Super Bowl week that Williams seemed to enjoy living in the ugly margins of the game. So I do not quite buy Williams’ “I take full responsibility and apologize for my previous actions” declaration from Thursday.
That said, I am glad the NFL reinstated Williams.
There is no killing his way of thinking, and thereby no sense in pretending that banning Williams would cause the body to die. How quickly the football family he betrayed embraced him speaks to how not so right of center he actually was.