On the eve of a decision that will come from the National Football League's office and desk of Roger Goodell in the coming days, the New Orleans Saints brass, players, and fans across the nation are all anxious to know what the penalty will be for the team's participation in a "pay for performance" reward model. There have been articles published by just about every sports beat writer in the nation revolving around the "facts" leaked by the the NFL and the dissected presumptions of every analyst willing to take a stab.
Well, we here at Canal Street Chronicles were finally able to get to the bottom of the "pay for performance" stratagem courtesy of a Gregg Williams alum. I sat down with former NFL safety Izell Reese, who played for Gregg Williams in 2003, and got some answers.
"Hard nosed," "class act," and "players coach." These were the first words used to fill the void of uncertainty when I asked Izell Reese about whether or not he considered Gregg Williams a good mentor. Izell played for the Cowboys, Broncos, and Bills, the latter being where he found himself under the tutelage of one Mr. Gregg Williams. Honestly, I was not surprised at all by his answer regarding the coach. He was very clear that there was a certain level of respect he had for Williams, and that respect was reciprocated throughout his career by his former coach. Our interview was Izell's opportunity not only to right the media ship, but to help those first three perspectives get aligned, on our way to the truth.
The first stop on our way is losing the term "Bountygate" forever. It's created an unnecessary cloak that has shielded most from taking the time to actually attempt to understand the situation. "Pay for performance" is much more accurate when describing the events that have taken place. Not only with the Saints, but what sounds like just about every team in the NFL, according to Reese.
"In terms of the accolades and rewards systems, Yes! I mean a big hit, an interception, a touchdown, a big play, or a game changer. This is something that we have always done since I've played the game of football."
There was a clear air of determination and confidence in his tone when answering questions about whether or not he felt like the media had overblown this situation and if this practice existed elsewhere. In making his point, he was clear to identify that there was a grave difference between what has been deemed as "bounty" versus what he believes from experience to really be "pay for performance."
It's an easier term to accept, isn't it? It doesn't constitute negativity. It simply implies: do something well and be rewarded. We all like to be rewarded, and Reese comments that players have had some form of reward throughout their entire playing career. The so called scandal is taking a player driven reward system and leveraging "terms" within their literal context negatively. Reese says that not only have most players been rewarded throughout their football lives, but the terms used like "knock out," "kill shot," and "cart off" absolutely can't be taken for their literal meanings.
"High school you get stickers on your helmet or coaches give you accolades for making a special play in the game. Even at the collegiate level."
"To say to be a part of something that dealt with injuring a player, I would have never been a part of that, not just Buffalo, but throughout my entire career. It is not something that I would have condoned."
"There has never been any type of incentive, financial reward, or recognition for going out and trying to take a players knee out or sending someone home on a stretcher. It doesn't make sense to me."
There is clear dissension between what the fans and media deem the terms used by players to mean on and off the field. Clearly "knock him out," "kill shot," and "cart off" aren't terms of endearment, but Izell did a good job of putting it all in perspective.
Football is a sport played by grown men that have defied the laws of physics with their size, speed, and ability. Injuries are a part of the game, due simply to shear probability. Football also in its most aggressive nature pits eleven men against eleven men with a goal of intimidation and domination for sixty minutes. The terms used to motivate themselves within the white lines for those sixty minutes are no different than the things you told your little brother you were going to do to him when mom left the house.
There is certainly a brotherhood amongst both teammates and opponents, and neither wants to see the other injured while on the field of play. Reese points to the end of games to help us understand. When the cameras pan out and the credits begin to roll after a game is over, what do you see? Most of the players are huddled at the 50-yard line kneeling in prayer, thankful for being allowed to leave the field safely.
So what is the truth you ask? Well after hearing the "facts" from the league, accepting the teams apology, dissecting the personal views of others, and now hearing it from a former player under coach Williams, here is my synopsis:
All 32 teams in the NFL have players that reward each other in some shape, way, fashion or form for performance. I think the players respect each other too much to have actual "bounties" for injury. The worst thing in the world as a player is to be "the guy" who injured someone and ended their career or hurt them badly.
I do, however, think that players want to do everything possible within the rules to intimidate their opponent, and if that means knocking snot bubbles out of his nose every play, well consider it done. Is this a bad thing? No. It's what we pay to see every Sunday. Unfortunately, what goes on behind the scenes that has been deemed as "pay for performance" is against NFL policies and is punishable. The Saints will be punished, Gregg Williams will be punished, and the players involved will be punished. They will most likely be made examples of with their punishments. But in the end there is no "Bountygate." It was killed by the truth.