By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) NFL players getting a little extra pocket-cash for “kill shots” isn’t really what we’re talking about as we learn the details of the Gregg Williams bounty system in New Orleans and Washington.
It’s the story, but not the issue.
Immediately after Roger Goodell doles out the various punishments to franchises, executives, coaches and players, everyone will get right back to the business of trying to hurt each other. And we’ll be just fine with that, as we have been for years.
I’m not minimizing the significance of the infractions here: it’s a big deal when paper trails connect administrated slush funds that pay out for brutal incapacitations. There can be no appearance of outright inhumanity at this tenuous point in the sport’s existence, with class-action lawsuits already filed that allege the NFL’s blind eye toward head-injury and concussions.
These violations look worse in the current environment, with both owners and players keeping safety at the forefront of public discussion. And they highlight the dissonant cross-currents of the moment.
Coaches, particularly defensive coordinators like Williams, are trying to use every bit of possible motivation to make their players as destructive as they can be. Rarely will anybody admit it, but one goal of NFL defenders is, indeed, to injure. It may not always be the primary objective, but it is hard, satisfying evidence of professional success — transmitting as much force as possible into the opponent, within the rules.
No fan of the Chicago Bears should be wagging a finger at Williams, for example, after lionizing teams under Buddy Ryan that pulverized people in similar fashion while also receiving the occasional on-the-side hookup. If we celebrated Wilber Marshall’s 1985 hit on Joe Ferguson, the 1984 demolition of Oakland’s Marc Wilson and David Humm, or the vicious pummeling of Phil Simms in the 1987 opener on Monday Night Football, we have to temper our indignation over what others are now doing.
This is the truth of the game we love, and we need to reconcile these facts. Anybody genuinely angry about a bounty program should be asked: why were you not already just as angry that players were trying as hard as they could to accomplish the same goals, and being coached to do so, even without illegal incentive?
It is about the intent, which has been there forever. Despite comments to the contrary, any honest defensive player or coach can tell you what is said in meeting rooms about the reputation they want to earn by leaving a trail of carnage in their wake.
I have thought about the discordant notes struck by images of player unity against the backdrop of the true violence. NFL teams mingle before games, make symbolic gestures of labor strength across sidelines, and kneel in prayer together on the field after three hours of mayhem.
It may appear cynical to some, now, that teams were plotting to take guys out, only to later hit their knees and praise the lord, the would-be assassins and their targets shoulder to shoulder.
But we need to understand what they understand – the knowledge of the intent is already baked in. More importantly, the intent is tacitly accepted. Those guys praying together, asking about each other’s kids and setting up dinner plans are well aware that there may have been prices on heads that day. Even if not, there were people actively trying to hurt them. That’s what they do for a living.
Williams and others may have broken the rules as they tried to get the most out of their defensive players, but they were not making NFL football something inherently worse than it was, is, or will be.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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