Jonathan Vilma and Gregg Williams

Saints we're paid as much as $10,000 for hits on opposing quarterbacks, and it wasn't an iTunes gift card. Photo courtesy Chris Graythen/Getty Images

“Football is not a contact sport, gentleman. Basketball is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport.”

That’s what my training coach told me my freshman year of high school, the first year I ever played organized football. I didn’t agree with a lot that that man said, but we saw eye to eye on that fact. Football is a collision sports. It is legalized violence, controlled chaos, and often more brutal than sports ironically called “combat sports”.

But just because a sport like football has an inherent level of physicality does not make it acceptable to try and utilize brute force for bodily harm. That is clearly a message Gregg Williams forgot somewhere along the way.

You see, there’s no denying that injuries are a part of football. But they are nothing more than an unfortunate byproduct of a necessary aspect of the game. When  people like Gregg Williams and the players he coach alter their motives and make injury, not only a direct part of the game, but a means to an end in terms of defensive strategy, they cross a line. I don’t think anyone can argue to the contrary.

Brett Favre

This hit might've landed Harper some fat dough, the same kind the Saints will now undoubtedly pay in fines to the NFL. Photo courtesy Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This is why this scandal makes me sick. Not because I don’t have a strong stomach for violence, but because I have a problem with athletes intentionally harming one another. Take Jonathan Vilma, for example. There were reports that he was offering as much as $10,000 for hits on quarterback Brett Favre. The only reason you put that kind of money on a veteran quarterback’s head is to take him out of the game. That is what makes me sick.

It’s like I said: it all goes back to that fine line. If Brett Favre gets carted off the field because he didn’t know when to retire and he took a punishing albeit legal blow from a linebacker, then so be it. But if that linebacker chose not to pull up or level off his tackle because he thought there might be a payday in it, that is when we have a problem.

But it wasn’t just Jonathan Vilma and it wasn’t just Brett Favre. Gregg Williams orchestrated a unit-wide bounty program that included, according to reports, somewhere between 22 and 27 players. 22 players, in case you didn’t do the math, is enough for every first- and second-string spot at every position on defense. 27 is over half a regular season roster. Gregg Williams didn’t just make a villain out of a couple of star players, he brought a culture of malicious intent to just about everyone who played on his side of the ball in New Orleans.

And that’s another thing that makes this story so shocking: it happened in New Orleans. The hopeless romantics of sports couldn’t help but to fall in love with the post-Katrina Saints. This was a city that didn’t have a hockey team, didn’t have a baseball team, and, for a while, didn’t have a basketball team. In fact, in the wake of that hurricane, New Orleans was a city that didn’t really have a city. You couldn’t help but to appreciate, in some way, the meteoric rise of the Saints. A team, on the shoulders of a quarterback who came to the Saints because he wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process in New Orleans, rose from mediocrity to become a perennial contender. This news about an alleged bounty program immediately cheapens all that.

If this had happened to a franchise like Oakland, we might’ve shrugged it off as “Well, it’s the Raiders. What do you expect?” or something to that effect. But it happened to the Saints. One of the few teams left that most people saw as “good guys” in the NFL. Needless to say, that reputation is all but gone.

And for those of you who were wondering, this is exponentially worse than Spygate. As much as I loathed the Patriots when that news came out, filming practices seems laughable in comparison to an organized effort to injure fellow athletes. Bill Belichick, love him or hate him, was trying to get a strategic edge over his opponents. As weird as it feels to say this, I’m going to say it anyways: that’s all it was. What Gregg Williams and the Saints defense did was jeopardizing the futures of their peers. If Belichick gets a tape of a practice, it might cost a player a Super Bowl ring. If Gregg Williams gives a monetary bonus for hurting someone, it might cost a player his career.

The last thing I want to talk about that irks me in all this is the hypocrisy of it all. Last summer, football fans were put through an obnoxiously long lockout. The owners wanted a bigger slice of the pie and the players, among other things, wanted more safety measures instilled in the game. One of the faces of the player’s union was Saints quarterback Drew Brees. So while he was in D.C. and New York lobbying for a safer NFL his very own teammates were pooling their money together to try and have their colleagues carted off the field. If that doesn’t make you the least bit angry I don’t know what will.

One of the funniest bits I ever heard the late comedian Patrice O’Neal do was a riff on how football hadn’t gotten “whack” over the years. He jokes about being back in the day playing high school football and, when they injured a player on the other team, rather than kneeling around and praying, they taunted the guy’s lifeless body and called out his crying mother in the stands. But as he wraps up the joke, O’Neal says, “And it ain’t like we were thinking about harming (somebody), it’s just that’s what we did.” I don’t know how you can say it better. You can work your butt off and make play after play with a level of toughness so high that someone might get hurt. But you don’t look to injure them or take them out of the game. Somewhere along the way, whether it was in New Orleans or Washington, Gregg Williams and the players he coached forgot all that.

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NOTE: This article was originally published on SportsHead. To read this story and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t standing on a soap box, he’s on Twitter! Follow him @bclienesch!