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Malee: Gregg Williams tapes should be a tipping point for football fans



A few weeks ago, when we were still talking about Rush Limbaugh and his latest case of verbal diarrhea, late night talk show host Bill Maher wrote a thought-provoking op-ed in The New York Times titled, “Please Stop Apologizing.” @@http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/opinion/please-stop-apologizing.html?_r=2&scp=3&sq=bill%20maher&[email protected]@ @@read it! It was [email protected]@

As you probably gathered from the headline, Maher’s point was that as a nation we’ve become too sensitive — too hardwired to swell with outrage any time anyone says something remotely controversial, to voice this displeasure so early and often via social media that the offending person is basically forced to emerge, hat in hand, with a tersely written apology.

Maher’s basic message — to dispense with the faux anger and let free speech reign — is one that I basically agree with. But there are times when the inverse of this problem occurs, when an issue pops up that should generate even more backlash than it does. The Trayvon Martin shooting comes to mind, as does — to a much lesser extent — last week’s leak of audio tape from the New Orleans Saints locker room.

In case you haven’t heard, the tapes caught former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams essentially telling his players to go out and kill someone. Among the choice quotes (as you read these, imagine them in the most toneless and creepy middle-aged voice possible): “Kill the head, and the body will die” … “We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head” … “Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head.” @@http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7778005/gregg-w[email protected]@

I distinctly remember clicking on this story and assuming, as is so often the case, that we were all up in arms about something that would be forgotten in a few days. Then I read it. Even now, a week later, I felt a distinct chill as I copied those quotes into this story. It felt dirty, because it was. Read them again and try to tell me Williams doesn’t sound more like a serial killer than a football coach. Kill the head, and the body will die? What the hell is wrong with this guy?

This is all part of a larger investigation regarding the “bounties” the Saints placed on opposing players, and Williams has been banned indefinitely (possibly, and hopefully, for good). The story was predictably met with horror from the general public and media pundits alike, at least for 48 hours or so. Then, as Bill Maher might say, everyone apologized and moved on. The NFL will continue to be the billion-dollar cash cow it is, and no one is going to quit watching the nation’s most popular sport over one disgusting scandal.

Well, except for me. Personally, I’ve been dancing around this issue for quite some time, ever since I first read extended reports about what exactly happens to players who suffer multiple head injuries (as in, basically everyone in the NFL). Watching football, whether professional or collegiate, has become a tedious balancing routine between what I love and what I choose to ignore. I’ve watched football since I learned to count downs and measure ten yards, and even entertained the notion of playing when I was a junior in high school. (Spoiler alert: this did not end well.) But so long as I continue to watch, to write, and talk and think about football every Saturday and Sunday, I’m also complicit with what Gregg Williams told his players on that fateful January afternoon. @@http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/200909/[email protected]@

And so, for one season at least, I’m quitting. Cold turkey. My job, of course, requires me to watch and write about Oregon’s spring football, so I’ll have to contradict myself for at least a month longer. Hell, I wrote about Oregon’s wide receivers in today’s paper. But after that, I’m going to see what it’s like to go without football for a whole season. I suspect it will be difficult, but certainly not impossible. At the very least, I’ll be able to tell myself that I’m not indirectly supporting unchecked violence.

You’re kidding yourself if you believe that football is anything less than that. You can no more take the violence out of football than you can dribbling in basketball, or standing around aimlessly in baseball. @@Yep, openly trolling you at this point, Kenny. [email protected]@ Either we keep up this charade that football doesn’t ruin players’ future lives, or we move away and let the game fade into the background like boxing has. There isn’t really an in-between.

Bill Maher was right to call us on our exaggerated outrage these days, but in this case it’s warranted. I have no delusions that my own banishment of the game will change anything, really.

I just can’t watch anymore.


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Patrick Malee

Patrick Malee