Much made of Williams' injure-the-Niners audio, but it does us a favor

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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What the documentarian did who taped the fiery, disgusting, ugly, fascinating, vomit-inducing and, at times, quite normal speech of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was do all of us a favor. The speech was a reminder of how things really are in the most popular sport in the world.

Oh, the NFL is all nice and dressy. It cleans up well. They promote their shiny new jerseys, plug in players on our fantasy teams, and we eat our chips and dip while sitting safely and comfortably in front of our television sets.

We've become totally distanced from what this sport truly is -- a violent, ugly mess in which men try to beat the living hell out of each other. Williams' speech is a reminder of what the NFL is really like. The speech, in many ways, was a public service, because many of us have forgotten just how ugly football can be.

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Now, of course, parts of Williams' speech crossed the line. He spoke of targeting players with concussions, talked of bounties, talked of targeting the knees of players with damaged ACLs. That's wrong. That is why Williams likely never will coach in the NFL again and Sean Payton, as his boss, will lose his appeal and be gone from the sport for a year.

So there are distinctions here. There is a line and parts of Williams' speech crossed it. Let's make that clear.

But everything else ... you're kidding yourself if you think what Williams said isn't repeated on a weekly basis by either a player leader, a position coach, a coordinator or a head coach. The violent, ugly talk spouted by Williams is commonplace in football. It has been a part of the culture since football was invented. And despite honorable and smart efforts by Roger Goodell to change this culture it probably will remain that way forever.

At one point Williams talks about hitting 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. "We hit [expletive] Smith right there," Williams says as he points to his chin. Then he adds: "Remember me."

Remember me shots: normal talk.

Williams: "Kill the head and the body will die."

Normal talk. Been said a million times in NFL locker rooms.

Williams: "We're gonna swarm. We're gonna dominate the line of scrimmage. And we're gonna kill the [expletive] head. Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head ... continue to touch and affect the head."

Yes, normal talk as well. That's right. Normal. Talk.

And please don't misunderstand. Again, there are distinctions here. Telling players to target Frank Gore's concussed head crosses the line. Bounties to injure cross the line.

But everything else Williams said is a normal part of the sport because of the violence required to play it well.

Tweeted former quarterback Tim Hasselbeck: "In light of the Gregg Williams audio. I don't think I was ever on a team where a coach didn't mention an opposing [player's injury]. Speeches like that can be heard across the league. Sounds brutal outside the boundaries of a team's facility ... if a corner has a hamstring injury you make him run ... if he had a concussion you want to see how willing he is to tackle your [running back]."

He's dead on and he's not making excuses for Williams either. These are facts.

Coaches constantly point out injured players. Body parts that are wrapped. I know of coaches who looked for limping players in warmups and then informed his team afterwards there was a player who was hurt who didn't appear on the injury report. The message was clear: go after that player.

Cleveland defensive lineman Gerard Warren in 2004 spoke of defending Ben Roethlisberger. "One rule they used to tell me: Kill the head and the body's dead," Warren said. The NFL warned Warren about his language but what Warren said has been said many times before.

Goodell wants to change this mentality and he's right to do so. Maybe he'll succeed, but it will only be to a point because the sport's violence won't allow more. That's the conundrum of football.

We've become accustomed to seeing football in HD but not really seeing football. We've ignored and forgotten what it requires to play this game. It requires speeches like Williams and sometimes acts and words we would find reprehensible while sitting on the outside.

Other aspects of Williams' behavior, particularly the encouragement to injure for pay, are reprehensible.

But kill the head and the body will follow? That's football.

Whether we want to admit it ... or like it.

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