Let me cut right to chase: Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should be banned from the NFL for five years for his role as the ringleader of the bounty program enacted in New Orleans. In the pantheon of egregious acts in football, and sports, this is a biggie.
It starts with an unnecessary infusion of intent. NFL players, particularly linebackers and safeties, already enter the league eager to inflict pain on opponents. It is inherent in a game in which on-the-field violence is glorified. Did these players need an incentive program to take it to the next level? Of course not.
What Williams initiated by manipulating players to hit harder and take opponents out is strikingly similar to what Michael Vick did when he turned his dogs into fighting beasts. Of course, Vick's actions were a federal crime -- dogs aren't human beings with a sense of right and wrong, and the biggest differentiator is that dogs were killed. But like Vick with his dogs, when Williams' players inflicted pain on the opposition, he relished it. Perhaps because, like Vick, it was all he knew. Vick had been brought up in a culture that celebrated dog fighting, Williams in one that celebrated football's brutality.
But unlike Vick's actions, Williams' "crime" is directly related to the game of football. Bounty programs are explicitly banned by the CBA. They have always been wrong for the obvious reasons, but particularly have no place in today's NFL.
The modern NFL is vastly different from the one Williams entered years ago. Player safety is the priority No. 1 for the league and the players' union. In fact, it's just about the only thing the two sides agreed upon during the arduous lockout last spring and summer. In the past few seasons, the league has cracked down on reckless conduct, suspending virtually any player who (even unintentionally) hit with his head and changing the kickoff rules to reduce injuries and concussions. The moves are an effort to extend the average lifespan of players, which, according to a 2008 study by Denver cardiologist Jeffrey Boone, is between 53 and 58 years.
What Williams did by running these bounty programs, especially from 2009 to 2011 with the Saints, made a mockery of the NFL's player-safety initiative.
He did the same to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has been one of the most active voices for the NFLPA when it comes to player safety. Whether bounties were assigned without Brees knowing of them, or whether he did know and was put him in a position where he should have been whistleblower, is a question that should be considered.
What Williams did in New Orleans is a disservice to his players, the league and a team that had built up community goodwill in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The punishment for the bounties likely will include fines and a loss of draft picks, and/or suspensions for Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis. That would not be enough.
If the NFL wants to get serious about the single biggest issue of its time, one that is literally a matter and life and death, it will show Williams the same punishment he tried to orchestrate on opposing players -- he will be "knocked out" for a while.