Browns

Gregg Williams: From Bountygate to Berea

AP Photo/Steven Senne
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Saturday night, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that the Cleveland Browns are firing defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and will hire the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, to the same position. La Canfora had reported back in November that the Browns were considering to move on from Ray Horton as defensive coordinator.

Williams spent the last three years as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, but he may be better known for his role as defensive coordinator for the 2010 Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. Williams led the Saints’ defense for three seasons from 2009-11 and is infamous for his role in the Bountygate scandal. The NFL suspended Williams and head coach Sean Payton one year for creating an environment where players were paid bounties for injuring players on opposing teams.

In fact, Williams was caught on recording telling his players to injure several members of the San Francisco 49ers ahead of a playoff loss as ESPN detailed following the release of an audio file from a director for their 30 for 30 series.

Williams, who is suspended indefinitely by the league and is not appealing the penalty, can be heard in the audio recording instructing his defensive players to injure quarterback Alex Smith, running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and receivers Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams.

According to Pamphilon, Gregg Williams pointed to his chin while telling his players to hit Smith “right there,” saying, “Remember me. I got the first one. I got the first one. Go get it. Go lay that m———– out.”

Williams uses one of his favorite slogans in the speech: “Kill the head and the body will die.”

The hiring of Gregg Williams, therefore, creates a problematic moral question.

Let me come right out and say it. I am not a fan of this hire. I understand that the first point that most people will make is that many teams in the NFL were supposedly utilizing a pay-for-injury money pool in the very same way that Gregg Williams was with the Saints. I don’t care. I’m not in favor of looking past something simply because other people were doing it. I’m willing to concede that other coaches were doing this, but we don’t have any proof. I’m not going to spend a second worrying about who else might be responsible for such a despicable thing. I’m going to focus on the one who had his hand caught in the cookie jar. Williams put players’ ability to provide for their family at risk. He created a situation where those players’ lives were potentially at risk. That isn’t a small matter to me.

I know that the NFL is a violent work environment, but there are rules to limit that violence. I work for a tech company and it is significantly less violent than the NFL. However, can you imagine if it was acceptable for other tech companies to have their employees attempt to break your hands to gain a competitive advantage? Or allowing people to hack into other companies to steal intellectual property, then giving them a slap on the wrist if caught? Why should we be OK with the same thing happening in the NFL?

It’s unfair and disgusting. We should be outraged and want to see that offender banned from the league to send a warning to any other coaches who might set up such a dangerous environment.

Hue Jackson understands what Gregg Williams did in the Bountygate scandal, and he is looking past it.

Williams has led defenses to different levels of success for the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans. He is someone whose former players show respect and admiration.

None of that matters to me. I know myself, and I’m not going to stop rooting for the Cleveland Browns simply because they hired someone who disgusts me. If I knew how to quit the Browns that easily, I certainly wouldn’t have watched the horror show that was this past season. Let alone the 17 abysmal seasons before it. But I can promise you that it’s going to really bug me having to root for a defense that is designed by Gregg Williams.

This is the primary coach who will be molding and shaping our young defensive players, and I don’t believe he possesses the right values for the job.

  • humboldt

    -Warms climate through release of natural gas as well as C02 pollution from related trucking operations
    -Associated with multiple health effects related to water table contamination, release of noxious gases at well-sites, noise pollution, etc.
    -Has also led to higher incidence of TBI from high concentrations of male workers living in close quarters, alcohol consumption, etc
    -Companies consistently make low-ball offers to people living in poor rural communities, exploiting their need for up-front funds
    -Banned in multiple countries (Scotland, Germany, France, etc.)

    Plenty of moral issues to debate…

  • Pat Leonard

    I talked a little about it in the comments, but my hot take is that he should have been banned from the league and every other head coach and defensive coordinator should have been investigated and banned if found to be participating in a money pool tied to injuring players. No tolerance. No second chances. Just gone.

  • tsm

    If you think our politics now is strange, please read Fear and Loathing on the campaign trail by HST. The most interesting aspect of any of his books is trying to determine where reality ends, and his fantasies begin. Now, back to the ether on my dashboard.

  • BenRM

    And if that was the course the NFL chose to follow, I probably wouldn’t criticize it. (I would have, but not with any vim or vigor.)

    But since it wasn’t, now he’s just a guy who works here. He was dumb enough to be caught doing a bad thing. He was suspended for it. Now he’s back to work.

  • Garry_Owen

    It was the three strikes paragraph, but I think you explained it.

    So what do you think should have happened?

  • Pat Leonard

    Yup. My outrage ends there. You’re one lucky SOB Gregg Williams, now don’t screw up your second chance.

  • Harv

    “NFL is the toughest sport to follow. So many things you have to put aside first to do so. Yet, here we are.” Was going to agree wholeheartedly, then thought of … lovable, cuddly J.R. Smith, who ran a stop sign at high speed and killed his passenger. Aroldis Chapman and so many other big league baseball “heroes” (http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/7/28/5936835/ray-rice-chuck-knoblauch-minnesota-twins-mlb-domestic-abuse-violence).

    Being a grown-ass adult and rooting for a sports team is an ongoing exercise in asking yourself why you enjoy it and what’s important. I’ve helped myself by turning off the volume when jocks are interviewed, and snorting at Brent Musberger’s on-air interpretation of morality. Or Roger Goodell’s, for that matter. And I try not to say “he’s a good guy.” I don’t know him, and might not want to.

  • Garry_Owen

    I’ll just cave under the pressure.

  • BenRM

    I sort of touched on this in my post – but we play a role in this as well. For decades, we ate the sausage and loved it. We didn’t care how it was made, so we didn’t look.

    Well, this is part of how it was made. Now we are grasping our pearls because we are surprised that people playing a violent sport did violent things that crossed the line? It seems a bit disingenuous.

  • humboldt

    I think he’s saying that irrespective of individual actors, the nature of professional football appears to engender a greater relative physical, mental, and emotional cost for its players than baseball/basketball do

  • humboldt

    Sure, but Williams was still issuing bounties at a time (2013) when the data on CTE was irrefutable and there was culture change happening across the NFL (albeit slowly).

  • Pat Leonard

    Was it really a vital part though? You’re telling me that players won’t respond to a money pool for forcing fumbles, grabbing interceptions, getting hits on quarterbacks that don’t result in penalties, etc? Why does it need to be injuring players?

  • mgbode

    what humboldt said

    Porter added in there confused the issue, probably shouldn’t have -> recency bias

  • Harv

    here’s an anecdote from long ago that illustrated this for me: at a Lake Erie Captains game, walking around with my then-small kids. Was cute when a young catcher named Chris Giminez showed off skin he lost on his arm to girls in the stands. Less cute when I followed my daughter’s gaze into the bullpen, where guys had drawn a graphic, 10 foot phallus in the dirt. Now, these were young, bored jocks, and when I yelled down to them to wipe it away they were oblivious to what I meant or why they should (one of them looked sheepish and took care of it). But a lot of people this good at sports (or coaching) are separated from norms we take for granted. And they older they get as they remain separated the more pronounced their immaturity is. Ok, it would take me too long to tie my thought threads together here, maybe elsewhere.

  • BenRM

    I’m going to quickly challenge your characterization of the CTE data as irrefutable. Up until late last year, the NFL was still trying to discredit it and had a quack doctor issuing multiple reports.

    (Important note, I’m not saying that I disbelieve the CTE data.)

    But it’s not a surprise that Williams (and the entire NFL) didn’t completely change the way they operated and made billions. Williams bosses didn’t care…until they did.

  • Harv

    no doubt. Boxers as well. I’m wary of going down a thread on this subject because probably too complicated and nuanced for a comment section.

  • mgbode

    I think you are confusing ethics with morals, but even still…

    OK, let’s get to the ones that are fracking specific. There is only one above:

    Associated with multiple health effects related to water table
    contamination, release of noxious gases at well-sites

    The question is if this can or cannot be avoided and if there are proper regulations in place to help avoid it. If this answer is it cannot be avoided, then yes, there is an ethical discussion as to what the inherent responsibility we each have towards our environment and the health of those near those sites.

  • BenRM

    Of course it’s not a vital part. But it was a part. And frankly, vicious hits and plays were what people wanted at a time.

    That time appears to have passed, but even the NFL, in their promos, was championing hits that it fined the players for later.

  • Harv

    worse, we did care how it was made. And watched “jacked up!” and all the other concussion porn. And nodded along when the crusty booth guys complained that the creeping rule changes to protect QBs would lead to them “wearing skirts.”

  • mgbode

    League-wide mandate that they know it has been going on but it will not be tolerated furthermore.

    Lay out the punishments for both the teams, coaches, and individuals who participate in such functions. Look for violations and suspend accordingly.

  • mgbode

    they don’t?

  • Garry_Owen

    But what about Williams, specifically? You said that he wasn’t punished severely enough. What should have happened to him?

  • Pat Leonard

    Well… in football they do. Baseball, on a much, much smaller scale.

  • mgbode

    Strong disagreement

    in the 90s, I guarantee there were many, many ballplayers who were not afforded a chance in MLB (or cut from MLB) who did not use PEDs when those who did took that advantage to zoom past them

    the added risk of irreparable harm for life was done on the PED-user, not the one losing their job though, so the NFL is worse there (while noting that many ballplayers who might not have used PEDs other than for feeling forced to since MLB wouldn’t punish the users)

  • humboldt

    -Warms climate through release of natural gas as well as C02 pollution from related trucking operations

    (Moral question: Is it right for companies to profit over the extraction of a resource that imposes externalities on the general public, particularly when the effects of a warming climate (heat waves, more intense weather events, etc) will be disproportionately borne by those of less means)?

    -Associated with multiple health effects related to water table contamination, release of noxious gases at well-sites, noise pollution, etc.

    (Moral question: Is it right for companies to create public health problems with their revenue-generating behavior?)

    -Has also led to higher incidence of TBI from high concentrations of male workers living in close quarters, alcohol consumption, etc

    (Moral question: How do fracking sites change the moral character of the communities they are drilling in?)

    -Companies consistently make low-ball offers to people living in poor rural communities, exploiting their need for up-front funds

    (Moral question: Is it morally defensible to offer exploitative contracts to those who are less educated, or in financial situations placing them in a diminished position to negotiate on their behalf?)

    -Banned in multiple countries (Scotland, Germany, France, etc.)

    (Moral question: To what extent does the natural gas lobby influence the political process in our country? Is this morally defensible?)

  • humboldt

    You may be right. But in my capacity as a Browns fan I seem to remember that changes were put in place to protect players earlier in the decade. For instance, the Colt McCoy concussion situation against hte Steelers in 2010(?) resulted in the NFL placing non-team-related neurologists in the press box to intervene if a player looked dazed.

    I obviously need to watch “League of Denial” again to refresh on the timeline of the NFL’s response.

  • jpftribe

    Counter? There’s a very good chance you’ll be penning the Art Briles for OC (or whatever it is we have on the Browns) version of this soon….

  • Hopwin

    I don’t think someone needs to take the Hippocratic Oath in order to be held to a standard of not actively advocating physical harm to others, I would probably expand that to include tacitly approving of any program that seeks to cause physical harm to another.

    Your question is interesting. It has been 23 years since Tonya Harding had Nancy Kerrigan kneecapped and she is still known exclusively for that act and I wouldn’t be comfortable with my wife challenging her to an ice skating competition… if my wife could in fact skate… which she cannot.

    At what point is Tonya forgiven and treated like any other figure skater? I don’t know that she can ever escape the taint of her personal scarlet letter.

  • Garry_Owen

    Well, the Hippocratic Oath remark was directly related to the context of hiring a doctor. A doctor is, by definition, disqualified if he/she advocates for the harming of others. My point was that “physician” is simply not a good analog for comparison with other professions by reason of the Hippocratic Oath. In fact, there are certain professions for which the intentional harm of others is an express qualification! (I recall taking one such opposite oath once upon a time, and many times at that.).

    As it pertains to Williams, it seems as if he has in fact taken an oath not to intentionally harm others again in that way.

    Tonya Harding is an interesting case. I saw a good documentary on her a while ago (30 for 30?). I honestly feel bad for her now. If Nancy Kerrigan can’t let it go, that’s one thing, and I wouldn’t begrudge her that, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s time to let it go – not as a figure skater, but just as a human being. There are plenty of others that could use a little public mercy.

  • scripty

    The NFL is run by skeeves who treat employees awfully.
    The teams are own by men who have a high rate of being brutal businessmen
    Many star players have bogus TUEs to mask PED use
    Many star players are phonies with all sorts of immoral behavior.
    In a league where players work on flimsy contracts
    But the scapegoat DC is a bridge too far?

    PLEASE.

    I know from former players there were league-wide bounties that players had no quarrel with.

  • tigersbrowns2

    bounty hunters deserve second chances like anyone else … and we can’t act like other teams aren’t doing this , spying etc. , etc.

    let’s give the guy a chance.

  • NankirPhelge

    I think that in certain circumstances, the best guy you can hire is someone who who has already done something really stupid and/or illegal because he will have learned a lesson and will never do it again, provided that he did learn something.

  • Pat Leonard

    Again, it doesn’t make the bounty program less reprehensible to point out that it was league-wide and accepted. It truly is a disgusting thing, no matter how many people did it, and we should treat it as such.

    Gregg Williams is not a scapegoat. He’s a guy who helped his players get paid extra to have other players carted off the field with injuries. Everything else is just noise to me. I don’t care about the circumstances or what else is wrong with the NFL. I can’t tackle all of those problems in one article. What I can tackle is this one instance of this one guy who is now a coach for my team.

    As a parent, I’ll say this… “but the other kids are doing it!” is never an excuse I’ll listen to, and I don’t believe we should let adults use it either.

  • scripty

    Vast difference between youth athletics and a professional environment where a culture is established by the professionals themselves.

  • Sam Gold

    Very well said, Pat. Character, much like common sense, is just not that common in this here NFL. As some others have said in this thread, I am seriously questioning why exactly I continue to be a fan of this thing. Existential despair should really not be a part of rooting.

  • Skulb

    According to B Mitch and Doc Walker on the DC radio, what Williams did was pretty normal in the 80s and 90s. The media just didn’t talk about it, and/or didn’t know about it. He’s a good DC and players love playing for him. Anyone who wants the Browns to win should be happy about this hiring. And I guess the people who are more concerned with morality will wring their hands at every win. To each his own.

  • Pat Leonard

    I don’t believe it’s a viable excuse. Even if 31 other defensive coordinators were doing it, it would not matter one bit to me. I honestly can’t think of anything more disgusting that you could do as a football coach than paying to injure players. We aren’t talking about paying for big hits or paying for key plays, although that probably did happen, we are talking about paying players to put guys in the hospital. Paying them to make sure opposing players can’t come back onto the field. Who cares how many people did it?

  • Pat Leonard

    I don’t believe I mentioned youth athletics. I’m talking basic values that you teach children. They still apply as adults.

  • tigersbrowns2

    you both are correct , but i am personally okay with this hire … he paid the price & deserves a 2nd chance.

  • mgbode

    Shut your mouth! No Briles. Please, no.

    (a great point though – that could be a possibility so let’s all cheer for Greg Roman to take the job)

  • WFNY_DP

    I’m curious about the juxtaposition of Williams’ hiring with the Browns and Kevin Wilson with the Buckeyes. I read that piece, and no mention was made of Wilson being pushed out at Indiana for mistreating his injured players. There was no outrage there; in fact, all I see are terms like “home run” and “Meyer gets what Meyer wants”. Where, then, is the gnashing of teeth about the Buckeyes’ “culture” and willingness to accept that head coach “wants” a good football mind with some pretty fresh baggage concerning mistreating his OWN players?

    (ASIDE: The WFNY article says Wilson “resigned” from Indiana, which, while technically correct, has a HUGE blind spot for the situation there. He turned Indiana from laughing-stock into middling team that makes a bowl game in multiple seasons and then got kicked to the curb. What school of Indiana’s ilk in football gets rid of the coach that authored that kind of turnaround unless he’s doing something very untoward?
    https://www.landof10.com/indiana/2015-investigation-kevin-wilson-firing
    http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2016/12/1/13809438/kevin-wilson-resigns-indiana-head-coach
    END ASIDE)

    So, what’s the difference? Is it worse to encourage injuring other team’s players, or to push your own players to play when they’re hurt, potentially exposing them to further injury?

    Or, is it that the Buckeyes are “good” and have, thus, built up some kind of cache where fans are OK with this stuff because it keeps the train chugging along full-speed ahead?

    Honestly, I have no strong feelings either way on either Williams or Wilson. I’m just curious to see if the people here with misgivings about Williams have those same feelings about Wilson.

  • Pat Leonard

    Fair enough TB.

  • Pat Leonard

    To be fair DP, this article represents my opinion only. I don’t have opinions on the Buckeyes other than that I want them to lose when they play the Hokies.

  • Pat Leonard

    Ugghhhhhh. Dang it.

  • WFNY_DP

    And this wasn’t directed specifically at you. I know the CFB proclivities of most of the commenters here. 🙂

  • Skulb

    No I get it. It’s just that the dirty stuff is part of the history of this sport, whether people like it or not. I agree with cracking down on it obviously, but not with being sanctimonious about it. Football is simulated warfare. That is the simplest explanation one can possibly give of this, and other, ball sports. The ball represents political power, the field, which is green, represents the world and the players humanity, fighting for power. The crowd are obviously the gods, watching the war unfold below. And that comes from ancient Rome, as do sports stadiums in general.
    The first recorded mention of actual football as a form of sport or recreation was also by the Romans. Apparently, the Belgians would play it with severed heads after battles. People died during these fun post-warfare contests in Belgium, just as they did in the USA until the rules were updated in the face of public pressure, about a century ago. And believe me, injuring players was what it was all about. Only those who enjoy violence need apply.

    So, things change and sometimes that is a good thing. I just want some perspective. We’re not talking about figure skaters trying to deliberately injure each another here. And just because someone is mentally stuck in a different era doesn’t mean they should be unemployable.

  • humboldt

    I did manage to find the timeline. Looks like 2009 was the first time the NFL acknowledged the correlation b/t head injuries and long-term consequences: http://deadspin.com/a-timeline-of-concussion-science-and-nfl-denial-1222395754