The National Football League has become one of America’s largest and most profitable organizations. While the sport of American football developed from rugby by the early 1900s, the NFL known today wasn’t established until 1920, and the iconic “Super Bowl” championship game wasn’t introduced into the league until 1966. Despite the many changes to the sport and organization over the years, one aspect always remained constant: the vicious nature of the game and how it’s managed. With the rising controversy, the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’s “bounty system,” a long-awaited question is beginning to surface: has this vicious nature taken football too far?
Gregg Williams has been in the NFL since 1990 and was respected around the league for his defensive coaching skills. Williams was known for being in charge of very aggressive defenses who undeniably favored a “blitz first” approach to playing the game. During his time on the coaching staff of the Saints, fans and NFL employees alike noticed the large amount of malicious hits on opposing team’s players, some of which were completely unnecessary. In fact, the NFL discovered during the 2011 season that Williams was implementing a bounty system to his players, offering incentives to those who took opposing players out of games by purposely injuring them. The NFL subsequently warned the Saints organization to end this system or consequences will occur. This didn’t seem to faze Williams the slightest bit, and according to Ashley Fox in her online article, proof was found after the season ended that he didn’t heed to the warnings from NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. This surfaced evidence includes a recording of Williams giving a pre-game speech to his players, encouraging them to target player’s ACLs and heads, in return for reward money. This whole dilemma is inarguable proof that it is the culture of football that has led to the mistakes made by the Saints. The aggressive sport many of us have grown up loving has crossed the line.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that the NFL has handled the situation both timely and accurately. Williams, along with Sean Payton, the Saints head coach, and other Saints staff members, have been suspended for various periods of time based on their involvement in the issue. The NFL should then take action by sending representatives to listen or record coaches’ speeches if there is suspicion of a similar “bounty system.” Unfortunately, there remains some grey area in the midst of this situation. This is the naturally violent nature of football that makes the sport what it is today. The mindset of modern NFL players is to go out on the field and hit as hard as they can, while still making a clean tackle that won’t get penalized. Former Giants linebacker, Antonio Pierce, who played under Williams in 2004, is quoted in an interview with ESPN saying, "It took me back to 2004, honestly. I know the tone. That was Gregg Williams. I love him for it. I loved his approach to the game. If I had to play for him today, I would, no problem." While his statements may seem close minded at first, Pierce explains how this is simply the nature of the game and goes on to admit that Williams goes too far by asking for his players to target opposing player’s heads who have had histories of concussions. The ruthless nature of football has crossed the line to many people long ago, which is, unfortunately, the nature of the game. The reason why this problem is so difficult to judge is because the NFL must figure out how much further Gregg Williams exceeded the already stretched limits.
So, has the vicious nature of football taken the sport too far? Once a professional organization is associated with intentionally harming their employees for the benefit of a select few, it’s evident that a change must occur. In this case, the reputation of the NFL has been harmed due to the actions of Gregg Williams and the malicious hits he’s responsible for. However, it is important to realize that the players of the NFL love the game and understand its potential physical consequences, but choose to play anyway. If the NFL handles this issue correctly, the sport of football will revert to a competitive and entertaining sport, while avoiding going back to a ruthless and excessively violent league.