There has been a good deal of moaning and most unfortunately, shrugging, about New Orleans Saints coach Gregg Williams and his "bounties for injuries" scandal. What we find repugnant tells us a lot about who we are; anyone who is not appalled by this sin against the brotherhood should just slap him or herself upside the head, Deacon Jones style.
Still, there is something to be learned from the latest dose of sportsmanship poison. Coaches need to stop screaming about possible penalties and make it bell clear that some acts are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the game.
I played and coached football at both the high school and college level and in all my years running pass patterns and on the sidelines, I never heard a coach reprimand a player for a cheap shot. Of course, they'd bellow -- "Don't do that -- we might get a penalty!" But again, I never glimpsed the guy with the headset grabbing one of his players by the facemask and forcefully instructing, "That was a cheap shot. We don't play like that -- it's just wrong" -- even though it might be legal.
In the 2010 playoff game between the Vikings and the Saints, Brett Favre handed the ball off and moved towards the sideline and out of play. Blam! Williams's bounty hunters nailed him to the turf. It was the definition of a cheap shot, aimed, of course, not at scoring points but at injuring Favre and taking him out of the game. After another similar episode, a New Orleans defensive player danced off the field with his palms out woofing, "Where's my money" -- well, where is your brain and your heart? Even from a self-interested point of view, you need your opponents to play the game that is also your livelihood.
Honestly, I don't know what it is with the guys with the whistles but they almost always proceed as though the only thing wrong with an illicit or near illicit move were the consequences. Coaches are teachers and are always prattling about how sports builds character and integrity. They need to walk their talk. They need to forcefully remind their students in spikes or sneakers that in addition to the thrill, the games are there to provide us with a workout in trying to balance competitive juices with care for others. Yes, this should even hold when the stakes are high and might even involve the almighty dollar. Otherwise, our linebackers may end up working on Wall Street and earnestly believing that all that matters is the final score.
The playing fields are supposed to humanize us and the people who stand at the helm of athletic teams must help young people to grasp the difference not only between illegal and legal play, but between right and wrong. Gregg Williams, as well as all the players who kept mum about his injury scalp system, should live on as a stark, negative teaching moment for all those whose classroom is the court or the white-lined field.