- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN NFL analyst Antonio Pierce, who played for the Redskins in 2004 when Gregg Williams was their defensive coordinator, had some thoughts on the audio of Williams' pregame speech that was released Thursday. Antonio sat down with Rachel Nichols for a discussion that aired on "SportsCenter," in which he said the stuff he heard in the Williams speech sounded very much like speeches he'd heard throughout his NFL career, including from Williams.
"It took me back to 2004, honestly. I know the tone. That was Gregg Williams. I love him for it. I loved his approach to the game. If I had to play for him today, I would, no problem."
Fine. Understood. The opinions of our former-NFL-player analysts are very much worthwhile, and it's good of them to be open about sharing them. But they're all missing the most important point in all of this.
This discussion has moved beyond the issue of bounties, well beyond the issue of what kind of motivator Williams is, and it needs to move beyond the issue of how common these speeches are. We get it. This stuff gets brought up. Players are made aware of opposing players' injuries so that they might take them into consideration when they decide how and much and how hard to hit them.
Happens from high school on up. We all completely get that this is common practice and has been for a long time.
But the real point in all of this is that it has to change, along with many other time-tested aspects of physical football, to fit in with today's player-safety-conscious NFL. You can argue that the league is hypocritical. You can argue that it was late to the party. You can argue that all of the player-safety initiatives and related discipline are a reaction to the proliferation of lawsuits by former players who claim the league ignored or covered up serious injuries for years. All of that is absolutely true. But what's also true is that, whether fans like it or not, player safety has become a paramount issue in today's NFL, and it's not going the other direction anytime soon.
That being the case, the idea of a motivational speech that urges players to target opponents' specific injuries is either outdated or must become so. If you're a defensive coordinator, and you're watching what's going on the past couple of days and weeks, and you're smart, you're leaving that kind of stuff out of your pregame speeches from this point forward. It's entirely possible to fire up your players without mentioning anything about concussions or ACLs, and given what's happened to Williams and the Saints, smart coaches are going to realize that and stop talking like this. Because whether you or I or anyone who's ever played football like it or not, the NFL is going to be very interested in knowing who does and who doesn't.