The BountyGate saga surrounding the New Orleans Saints and, more specifically, former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, has shaken fans of the NFL. Reports of players being offered incentives by coaches to injure opposing players goes against any rules of fair play, and calls into question the integrity of the game. It is deplorable, and worst of all, supported by some of the so called leaders of one of the franchises in the NFL.
This story continues to evolve, the latest report being that Gregg Williams instructed Saints players to injure opposing 49ers players before last year's Wild Card playoff game. The audio states that Williams was encouraging his players to take out members of the 49ers, using a stream of profanity and graphic description of how to injure the opponent.
As horrible as these accusations are, I am here to tell you that Williams is not alone in using these tactics to motivate players. I was personally involved in something similar, only when I was part of it, I was not in the NFL. I wasn't even in college or high school yet. Nope, for me, we have to go back to grade school, where I first learned how to play the game of football.
I first started playing football in 5th grade. As a pre-pubescent athlete, I was awkward at best. The team was coached by a trio, all of whom were coaching or had coached in high school at some point. Seeing as I was not very athletic, and sadly not very good, the coaches tended to pay more attention to the starters (mostly 6th graders, as the team was a 5th and 6th grade mix), hoping they would lead them to championship glory. In fact, my 5th grade team lost the championship by 3 feet, failing to score a touchdown as the clock expired which would have won the game. I remember getting that feeling of getting so close, but falling just short. I never wanted to feel that again.
Things would be different two years later. Very different indeed.
By the time I was in 7th grade, I was ready. Having grown taller and stronger, I was ready to show that I belonged on the field with the starters, the seemingly invincible 8th graders. I was fortunate enough to win a starting spot on the defensive line as a nose tackle (yes, I was a nose tackle) as a 7th grader. I played with reckless abandonment, part of it due to my blossoming athletic ability, and part of it due to the coaching I received. At the time I thought the coaching is what made the difference. As time as gone on, I have realized the coaching was not only wrong, but disgusting, especially when it was being taught to a child.
Imagine being 13 years old, and making a mistake on the football field. Now imagine your coach grabbing you by the facemask and screaming in your face, using every profanity available to describe how much you screwed up on that play. That was a fairly common occurrence in my world as a 13 year old. If you made enough mistakes, you got to do leg lifts for 10 minutes at a time, holding your legs in place 6 inches off the ground. I understand the coach was merely trying to motivate his players to do better, but as a 13 year old, the only thing it really did was put the fear of God into me not to make a mistake. As an adult, I might be able to handle it. As a kid, not so much.
One of the ways this same coach tried to make me better was to show me some of the tricks of the trade of playing football, at least the way he wanted it to be played. I can still remember him telling me that if an offensive lineman tried to take out my knees, I had to throw him to the ground and stomp on him. "Aim for the back of his neck" was the direction I was given. And if I couldn't get him on the neck, "Try to break his hand" was my secondary target. I was 13, and being told by a coach to try and break someone's neck or hand. It is disgusting to think about this in retrospect, and I am thankful I never participated in these actions. We did win the championship when I was in 7th grade, but in looking back at how it was won, I cannot believe we actually celebrated the spread of unsportsmanlike conduct.
Gregg Williams is paying the price for his actions. Suspended indefinitely by the NFL, he should never be allowed to coach again. But it is not just him who believes that administering pain in an already violent sport is not only allowed, but encouraged. Coaches who think that this is an acceptable should be removed forever to prevent spreading the infection of unsportsmanlike behavior. My coach never coached again after his son graduated from grade school. I wonder if it had something to do with the way he coached. I certainly hope so.