The Line Between Hitting Hard and Intent to Injure

Why is there a problem seeing the line that separates violence built into football, and violence that is not?


The question arose again this week after the release of an audio tape of former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, who is on an indefinite suspension for his role in the Saints three-year-long “player bounty” program.

On Wednesday, documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon released an audio recording that he says is a speech Williams gave to Saints defensive players in the team hotel the night before the Saints lost to the 49ers in a playoff game in January. Pamphilon was following the Saints last season while working on a documentary featuring former Saints special teams player Steve Gleason, who is currently battling ALS.

In the recording posted on website, Williams is heard delivering a fiery speech to his defensive players that included direct references to targeting the injuries of specific 49er players.

It was those comments that drew criticism and may impact the return of Gregg Williams as a coach in the NFL.


Whether it’s physical or mental, intimidation is part of the football culture. So, most of the Williams’ audio is pretty typical of the way football coaches talk to players. Defensive coaches especially, use this kind of rhetoric to fire-up their players.

Coaches always are talking about imposing your will on the other team. That message is delivered at almost every level of football. I certainly heard it when I played. So, while the “Kill the head and the body will die” comments by Williams on the tape were over-the-top, it’s pretty typical football language utilized by coaches to rev-up players.

It isn’t taken literally.

Where Gregg Williams does run into trouble is when he talks specifically about targeting particular players and their injuries. When you urge your players to go after the knee of an opponent returning from an ACL injury, you’ve crossed the line.

In no way can you defend that kind of talk.

There is a line between finding out a opponents’ willingness to compete by hitting him as hard as you can, and targeting a players’ injury with the object to further injure that player and put him out of the game.

Many players are likely to argue that the distinction is meaningless and that the words don’t really matter. That it’s a violent sport and you’re always delivering the hardest hit that you can.

But, to me, the difference in motive does matter.

We all understand that we’re talking about a professional sport. It’s a business and there is a lot at stake.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that without clean competition and an even playing field, you lose the essence of competition.

Respect for your opponent is a fundamental of every sport.

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