Commentary

Gregg Williams' second chance

NFL has reinstated plenty of people who have done worse than DC

Updated: April 20, 2012, 1:56 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

There are all sorts of ways pro football players define the letters N, F and L.

Obviously there's the "National Football League." But then there's the "No Fun League" and "Not For Long." For the purpose of this column, I'd like to focus on the third.

Typically it refers to rapid changes. One minute a guy is the best player in the league; the next, he's cut for salary-cap reasons. "Not For Long" can also describe the fleeting moments that precede lead changes, coach firings and suspensions.

[+] EnlargeShawne Merriman
Sean M. Haffey/The San Diego Union-Tribune/Getty ImagesShawne Merriman certainly doesn't treat opponents gently.

So people might wonder how long disgraced defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will have to wait now that he's reportedly checking on the avenue for reinstatement. I think N.F.L. -- not for long. And nor should he have to wait, given the precedent set by transgressions we all can agree are worse than bounties.

For example, in March 2009 Donte' Stallworth got drunk, got in his car and hit a pedestrian, killing him. He was convicted of manslaughter and was suspended by the league … but not for long. He was reinstated after missing a season and signed with the Ravens. He has a lifetime suspension of his Florida driver's license but in March he signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots.

Or look at Houston's Brian Cushing, who was named the 2009 defensive rookie of the year. He was busted for having a performance-enhancement drug in his system and was suspended … but not for long. Four games is all that getting caught cheating cost him, and he kept the award.

When juxtaposed to those two examples -- as well as others such as assaulting women or killing dogs -- why in the world would anyone think Williams will never work in the NFL again? That DUI manslaughter can be forgiven but for some reason bounties are the great unforgivable sin?

The audio of Williams is disturbing but not entirely surprising. Sometimes guys in the pile at the end of plays will spit, bite, pull, kick, knee, elbow … and that's at the high school level. The nickname for 2005 defensive rookie player of the year Shawne Merriman is "Lights Out." It is a declaration of intent to injure, and efforts to suggest otherwise are just feeble attempts to justify our love for something that is fairly barbaric.

Williams didn't invent bounties.

Williams didn't issue them in empty rooms or to skeptical audiences.

There is audio because the New Orleans Saints allowed a documentary film crew in one of Williams' meetings. Team officials, according to commissioner Roger Goodell, had denied violations of bounty policies for three years. That either makes the team and Williams extraordinarily stupid, or they were so comfortable in the practice that they didn't think it was that big of a deal. Needless to say, I'm inclined to believe Williams assumed what he was saying and doing wasn't unusual.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliWhen Gregg Williams returns to the NFL, he should choose his words and motivational ploys more carefully.

As one of his former players reportedly said, "Gregg's not the only one who has done stuff like this, but he's the one who got caught."

Former Redskins assistant coach Greg Blache admitted he knew about Williams' bounty program while he was the Redskins' defensive line coach in 2004-07. However, while Blache claims he disliked it, one of his former players reportedly offered this account: "Greg Blache said, '‘If you get fined, it will be taken care of.'" That doesn't mean Blache liked bounties, but it doesn't seem he did anything to try to stop the practice.

As for further steps to reach that NFL conclusion, Williams doesn't need sensitivity training.

He doesn't need to meet with officials on a weekly basis.

He's already apologized publicly. Let him sit for a year, then welcome him back around the same time Saints coach Sean Payton is brought back into the fold.

San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh aren't trashing the guy. Niners cornerback Carlos Rogers said "we're still close." Former players are shocked that info about the bounties wasn't kept in-house. Why? They all know Williams is just one of many oily cogs in the machine of a wildly entertaining but nevertheless ruthless sport.

He's been made an example of, message received, move on.

If there's room in the league for players who get 'roided up before they go out to try to destroy each other, if there's room for players arrested for domestic assault multiple times, if there's room for a guy who got drunk and ran somebody over, I think there's room for a defensive coordinator who reportedly put $15,000 on Brad Johnson's head. Especially since no one in that room stood up and said "Coach, this is wrong."

I'm not saying Williams' actions aren't unsavory.

But the NFL would be out of business if it issued lifetime bans for folks involved in unsavory things. Which is why suspensions typically are not for long.

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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