Thursday, April 12, 2012

2 comments I Say I Want Bill Simmons to Write More Columns...But Do I?

Bill Simmons has written a "But we are all hypocrites for enjoying football, so everyone jump off your high horse" column for Grantland about the Saints bounty scandal. I guess his choices were between writing this column or writing a column ranking the NBA coaches as if they were characters from "90210." Bill wrote this because audio from this year's NFC Divisional Round became public and it allows the public to hear Gregg Williams exhorting his defense to injure 49ers players and even makes a reference to injuring Alex Smith for money.

I kind of figured this was coming since immediately after the tapes were released Bill wrote a Tweet in disbelief that the Saints would follow what Williams told them to do and injure a fellow player. It seems Bill hasn't paid attention to the whole bounty scandal (though in his defense, it didn't involve the Patriots in any way so Bill probably didn't care to pay attention). The Saints DID try to injure opposing players for money at the behest of Gregg Williams. So I do believe the Saints players would do what Williams had asked of them, especially since money was involved. Still, Bill doesn't believe it and while he is capable of making a few good points, overall he's on the wrong side of right with this column.

I don't know if the Saints intentionally were trying to injure Alex Smith or Michael Crabtree's ACL, as the tape suggests, but the idea conveyed to the Saints defense stayed the same. Hit them hard and you may make a few bucks off it. I don't know if I would go the distance of some columnists who want to ban Williams for good, but the murky water of NFL celebrating hard hits is being cleared up by the NFL. The NFL is probably late in making these type changes, but that doesn't mean they should just give up on changing the perception of hard hits nor go hard on teams who run a bounty program.

Yeah, I heard the audio of former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams urging his players to injure various 49ers before their January playoff game.

Since Bill is aware of the audio, it does actually exist. Nothing exists in the world until Bill has acknowledged its existence. The world revolves around Bill and his thoughts on a certain topic.

It's pretty compelling — not just because he wanted to maim Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, and not just because he may have been illegally taped without his consent, but because Williams might be the worst motivational speaker in recent American history.

If Bill is trying to write a serious column, he may want to stay away from his typical "here's a quick joke based on pop culture" comments. Get your point across and try not to compare real life events to a movie.

If that was a sports movie scene, the director would have fired Williams and replaced him with another actor.

And if that were a porn movie scene, he would be doing it all wrong! If Williams were speaking in church, he wouldn't be invited to speak in church again! If Williams were speaking to a group of people who only speak Chinese, no one would have understood a word he said!

You get the point. It wasn't a sports movie scene, it was real. Yes, Williams doesn't reach the level of "fictional head coach who makes an impassioned speech" and it doesn't really mean anything in this situation. Fictional accounts of a non-fiction event are usually more dramatic. It's hard to tell this to Bill who seems to consistently believe there is a direct connection between what life is like in the movies and what happens in reality. So the fact Gregg Williams didn't seem like an impassioned fictional coach probably had no effect on the message to the Saints players.

Of course, it's 2012 — the Year of Internet Self-Righteousness — which means we need to feign disgust, pile on the Saints, argue for Williams to receive the NFL's death penalty and basically freak out that a football coach would ever do that.

Disgust isn't being feigned. No one is piling on the Saints, simply suggesting appropriate punishments. Also, no one is freaking out a football coach would ever do that, but commenting on the idea this would happen in an NFL locker room where players on opposing teams may have gone to college together or had some other prior affiliation. That's all. There's no self-righteousness and Bill Simmons isn't our voice of reason. He isn't the voice of anything, other than that slightly nasal, Boston-accented voice those who listen to his podcasts are hearing.

So let's concede the following points. No, you shouldn't instruct your players to hurt people. Yes, you should be fined and suspended for that. Yes, Gregg Williams came off like an insensitive Neanderthal, and yes, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to take him seriously as a coach again. His professional career is over. The tape is pretty damning.

So basically Bill is conceding everything said about Williams is accurate and he should be punished. He's just asking we don't judge Williams for it because football is a violent sport and we are all hypocrites for enjoying the sport. To an extent, Bill is correct, but to another extent he is incorrect.

Bill is correct that football is an inherently violent sport and to ever expect it to be non-violent is naive and misguided. Bill is incorrect in putting the bounty scandal in with the inherent violence of the NFL. Placing bounties on players is outside the realm of the inherent violence during a football game. It's not part of the normal course of the game.

Is there a thin line? Absolutely. It's the same thin line in NASCAR between two drivers getting into an accident on the track and one of those drivers intentionally wrecking another driver or an accident being just that, an accident. It's the same thin line between a pitcher accidentally hitting a batter in the head and intentionally throwing the ball at that batter's head. Yes, both sports are inherently violent at times, but the actions taken in each situation (to place a bounty, to intentionally wreck someone, to intentionally throw the ball at someone) is outside of the normal course of events. The outcome is the same, but the intent is different. The intent is what disturbs people about the bounties placed on opposing player's heads by the Saints.

So the whole "football is violent and the NFL is at fault in some ways," while being true overall about concussions, isn't true in this case. There was a specific rule on the books to prevent bounties being placed on opposing players.

Even if it's far-fetched that any Saint listened to that speech and thought to himself, Maybe my creepy weirdo of a coach is right, maybe I SHOULD go after Michael Crabtree's ACL!

This shows Bill's disconnect with reality in two ways. The Saints players don't consider Williams to be a creepy weirdo. Many of them have come out in defense of Williams. They clearly followed the bounty program he set up. This shows they don't consider him to be a creepy weirdo. You don't break NFL rules and defend a guy you think is a creepy weirdo.

Even though the Saints didn't intentionally go for Michael Crabtree's ACL, the message was clear and it was followed. The quotes from the 2009 NFC Championship Game involving Brett Favre show the Saints were clearly trying to injure him. Don't let the specificity of Williams' request fool you. It wasn't like the entire team was aiming for specific body parts of the 49ers players, but going after Michael Crabtree's ACL was a metaphor for "whatever it takes, even if you have to hurt your opponent, get it done...oh and here is a little bit of money on the table as an incentive." So yes, I believe the Saints did follow what Williams said. Otherwise they wouldn't have bought into the bounty program.

But there's a bigger story here: the laughable notion that anyone can change an ingrained culture of violence overnight.

No, this is a completely different story and topic. This story is related to the bounty program, but the NFL's previous inability to do anything about concussions and head-related injuries to players doesn't mitigate the Saints bounty program in any fashion. There was a specific rule against bounties. The punishment of the Saints isn't occurring because the NFL has suddenly decided bounties are wrong. Few people, the commissioner included, believe the culture of violence overnight. That doesn't mean the NFL shouldn't try.

The league never turned off its "We're gonna look the other way, keep being violent and keep those hits coming" switch until the 2010 season, after that infamous October weekend with all the signature hits, when Roger Goodell said, "Oh, crap, maybe I should start fining these guys because the Sports Legacy Institute has accumulated three-plus years of rock-solid concussion evidence and lawsuits are coming.

Yes, football is inherently violent and the NFL realized it needed to crackdown harder on illegal hits after that weekend. I'm not going to defend the NFL being late to the concussion game. The league saw what was on the horizon and knew they had to crack down on illegal hits. They only cracked down once research came out showing the effect of violent hits on retired players. The NFL is late and was in the wrong on this issue for a long time.

Better later than never!"

No sarcasm, it really is better late than never. The lateness can't be excused, but the fact the NFL is finally doing something about illegal hits and had grown concerned about the concussion-related symptoms of players is progress. It wasn't timely progress, but it was progress all the same.

And so the league started cracking down. Less than 18 months later, we're supposed to be baffled and appalled that the Saints would shrug off those warnings, that they wanted to win money for crippling opponents or knocking them out

In a simple word, "yes." The Saints knew it was against NFL rules to run a bounty program. There is really no way around this. I think some people are appalled the Saints so blatantly ignored this rule and this is understandable. It was against NFL rules and teams were warned not to run a bounty program.

Fans know players want to knock the shit out of opposing players, but the idea NFL players would put bounties on each other appalled a few people. This is because bounties are out of the realm of the normal course of an NFL game. It's really that simple. I personally wasn't shocked or appalled, but I can understand how some would be. Don't make me use my NASCAR and baseball analogies again to show how the difference in injuries caused during the normal course of a competitive event and injuries caused out of the normal course of a competitive event.

(Watching ESPN this morning was pretty funny — it's like every talking head took an oath to forget the network was running "JACKED UP!" segments a few scant years ago.)

The media are hypocrites at times! We need to tell someone about this. Quick, alert the med---

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Belichick uttered something more ominous than that. That's football, a sport in which coaches holler things like, "NOW GO OUT THERE AND KILL THEM!" Do they mean, literally, to murder them? Of course not.

Right, but when Gregg Williams says, "Go hit Alex Smith in the head as much as you can" while rubbing his fingers together as if he were counting money and the team has a bounty system in place where the players receive money for hard can see how the literal and figurative get mixed up in the Saints locker room.

Bill consistently misses the point that there was an understood bounty program in the Saints locker room. Everything Williams said has to be looked at while understanding this fact. If a player knows he could get money for intentionally injuring another player and his coach says, "Go hit Crabtree in the knee," then this figurative bit of speech takes on a literal meaning. Bill seems to miss this point.

When it came out that Williams (and his players) crossed the line, the Saints became The Scapegoat Du Jour for a league that desperately needed one.

Absolutely. Just like Pacman Jones and the entire Bengals roster were the scapegoat for the commissioner's new (at the time) personal conduct policy. This doesn't mean the scapegoat doesn't deserve it.

In case this wasn't clear, everyone, the NFL is taking player safety seriously now! Emphasis on the word "now."

No one is arguing the NFL was timely on player safety. The NFL's player safety concerns are exhibited in the punishment the Saints received. The act of placing bounties on players was taken seriously enough by the NFL that there was a specific rule against this.

It's a transparent ploy to make up for decades of real negligence,

No, it is a transparent ploy to take player safety seriously. What would Bill have the NFL do? Nothing? Just ignore and not care about player safety (like they have done for decades) because they wouldn't want to be seen as making up for negligence prior? So the right move would be to throw up their hands and say, "We were wrong for so long about this, it would be hypocritical to try and do anything now." Is that what Bill thinks the NFL should do? It's fine to thrash the NFL for lack of concern about player safety, but he can't thrash them for trying to change this and expect to be persuasive.

It is not like the Saints had no clue what they were doing violated an NFL rule. I can't emphasize this enough. The punishment for the bounty program isn't a result of the NFL waking up in early January and deciding they will start punishing teams running a bounty program.

Football is a really violent sport. There is no right way to play football that doesn't include the words "exert your physical will."

Yes, football is a very violent sport. Trying to take away the violence of the sport changes football in many ways to where it wouldn't look like the current sport being played.

So deconditioning them (and their coaches) is going to take time.

I'm pretty sure no one has indicated it would be easily done overnight or by next week.

Hey, Roger: If you cared about the welfare of the players, you'd shorten the season to 15 games and add another week of byes. Right? But hey, that would cost owners money. Instead, you'll continue to position yourself as the Sheriff of Player Safety, puff out your chest, crack down on hard hits and swagger around like you're Tim Olyphant in Justified."

I'm not sure anyone calls him "Tim Olyphant," but call him "Timothy Olyphant" and he isn't a sheriff on "Justified" but he was a sheriff on "Deadwood." Great analogy by the way. Spot-off.

Of course who am I to argue with Bill about Hollywood actors? As Bill tells us repeatedly, he knows people in Hollywood. For all we know Timothy Olyphant is Bill's neighbor. Of course, I'm sure Bill would have found a way to slip that little fact into a column by now if it was true.

Allow me to add the following: When will Goodell admit publicly that he waited waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to start cracking down on violence (and the culture behind it), or that he'll always regret looking the other way as evidence mounted that concussions were infinitely more dangerous than we originally believed?

It appears Bill's basic argument is the NFL has no room to sanction the Saints for the bounty program because they are hypocritical themselves when it comes to player safety. If this principle were true, no parent could ever discipline their child for doing something wrong because that parent had done something wrong in their life as well.

Don't blame me for child-parent analogy, Bill is the one who brought up the parent-child analogy for the Saints and the NFL earlier in this column saying:

Any parent knows that kids never listen the first time — it takes four or five times, and usually a raised voice or a threat, before they heed your wishes.

Maybe that's not as bad as what Gregg Williams did, but Goodell's not exactly one of the heroes of this sordid story, either

No one is stating Goodell is a hero. As the commissioner of the NFL, he has to punish the Saints for violating an NFL rule. He chose a very harsh punishment.

The truth is, the NFL doesn't know what the hell it wants.

You are not breaking new ground here, man. The NFL makes money off a violent sport that can't be too violent. It's a tough predicament. The violence is what makes the sport great and is also what could bring the sport down.

If they change how football is played and turn it into a glorified version of the Pro Bowl, there's a chance people won't like the sport as much.

So what do you do? You pretend you care.

I think the NFL really does care. They care because it could affect the bottom line, but they still care.

You make an example of the Saints.

Have I mentioned the Saints broke a rule that was already on the books before the NFL cared about player safety? Yes, the NFL made an example of the Saints. They didn't make an example of the Saints because of player safety only, but because they want to make sure the stars of the NFL are able to play as many games in a season as possible. That's why the NFL protects quarterbacks so much. The quarterbacks are the stars of the NFL and the league doesn't want T.J. Yates starting a playoff game against Ryan Mallett, so quarterback safety is a concern. Notice how most of the posted bounties were against quarterbacks (Newton, Favre, Rodgers). So yes, the NFL made an example of the Saints because they were the first team to get caught running a bounty program.

Before yesterday's Cardinals-Marlins game, I watched Muhammad Ali (one of my childhood heroes) trembling so severely that he couldn't throw the first pitch.

This reminds me...remember how Bill said Tiger Woods road back was more difficult than Muhammad Ali's road back after Vietnam? Bill would prefer we don't remember this.

Yes, I will keep watching boxing.

Which makes me a hypocrite.

So does this make me a hypocrite for watching football when players are getting injured? It probably does. I'm not a hypocrite for watching football and wanting the Saints to be punished for their bounty program though. I like the sport of football, but I think a bounty program hops over that thin line. A bounty program has no place in the NFL I care to watch.

That's what the NFL is banking on these next few years — hypocrisy, basically — as more stories emerge about the tortured lives of retired players. Many of them can't walk, sit down or remember anything.

Please remember just a few paragraphs ago Bill Simmons was stating it will take time for the NFL to turn the culture of hard-hitting around, but he is also criticizing the NFL for trying to turn the culture around. I'm not on the NFL's side, but if this is going to take time to change, at least give the NFL for attempting to affect this change...even if it is financially driven and not driven by actual concern for players.

A few weeks ago, Jim McMahon confessed in an interview that his short-term memory was gone, then admitted he wouldn't even remember the interview as he was giving it.

Did this really happen? How is this shocking at all? Jim McMahon knows he has short-term memory problems. So during the interview would be the time he would mention he wouldn't remember the interview.

Now, it would be shocking if McMahon didn't remember what was going on during the interview, but McMahon's admission in time of full lucidness doesn't seem that shocking to me. He knows his situation and he is merely acknowledging that situation. So the emphasis on McMahon saying he wouldn't remember the interview as he gives the interview makes sense. It's like a victim of Alzheimer's apologizing for getting people's names wrong during a period of lucidness. The Alzheimer's patient knows there are times of non-lucidness and will apologize for them (perhaps) in a time of lucidness.

and then you go back to looking forward to the next football season. Gregg Williams crossed the line; he won't be there.

Which is probably a justified punishment.

I just wish someone would decide, once and for all, where that line really is.

Whoa! Deep thought there. Someone has decided where the line really is. Hits deemed illegal are going to be fined and punished. The line on what an illegal hit is defined by the game officials and fines and suspensions are determined by NFL league officials. Bounty programs are against NFL rules, just as they have been for a while now. The NFL is drawing lines and figuring out where to draw new lines. Are they drawing lines too late? Probably, but the lines are being drawn. Since Bill admits it is going to take time, perhaps he should give it time.


rich said...

Williams might be the worst motivational speaker in recent American history.

They play 16 games a year + 4 preseason games... if he gave the rousing movie speech every week... they'd ignore his ass by week 3.

He's a football coach of a team that won a SB, playing in the second round of the playoffs:

1. Job priority goes strategy, then motivation.

2. If you need a motivational speech for a second round playoff game, you suck.

it would be difficult (if not impossible) to take him seriously as a coach again. His professional career is over. The tape is pretty damning.

This is why I can't stand Simmons - He says we're all feigning disgust and piling on... but then says that the tape killed Williams' career.

If it's not disgusting for a coach to do this and we're all just piling on, why the fuck is his career over?

If you're going to concede that what Williams did was:

2.Worthy of suspension
3.A career killer

You've concede the argument, there is nothing you can say at this point that can outweigh those three points because it's precisely those three points that disgust people.

That doesn't mean the NFL shouldn't try.

Ben, If I could hand you a beer through the internet I would.

To argue that you can't change the culture overnight therefore don't punish people for breaking rules... is so patently stupid I can't believe someone got paid to write it.

Simmons is the king of strawman arguments, he'll say "well people think we're trying to change the culture overnight" when it's not true.

Yes, people are trying to change the culture (is that a bad thing?), but they're doing so with the long term goal in mind. This punishment helps achieve that goal.

that they wanted to win money for crippling opponents or knocking them out

If I made 3M a year at my job and my boss told me to tear my co-workers ACL for 10K... I'd be pretty disgusted.

we're supposed to be baffled and appalled that the Saints would shrug off those warning

Ya, if only the Saints had a previous case of a team being punished harshly for breaking NFL rules. Valid point there Bill.

Sorry, if the NFL says "2 draft picks and 250,000 in fines" for taping from the wrong location (remember it wasn't the taping that was illegal, but where it was taped from)... what the hell do you think you'd get for spitting in the NFL's face for 18 months?

I'm appalled that an NFL team could be so oblivious as to breaking the rules and documenting it.

This doesn't mean the scapegoat doesn't deserve it.

Ah, the old "everyone does it" excuse.

Too bad no other team was dumb enough to record them breaking the rule.

And yes, the Saints were punished harshly, why? Because it's the fastest way to let teams know you won't put up with this shit anymore.

If the argument is "well you can't change the culture overnight," then you can't also fucking say that the punishment is too harsh because it's harsh because it's the fastest way to change the culture.

It's a transparent ploy to make up for decades of real negligence,

So the NFL shouldn't do anything about it now? They were late to the party, but guess what? Every sport was.

Again, Simmons misses the mark entirely - the NFL realizes how they fucked everything up in the past and are now getting serious about it to make sure things change as quickly as possible. It's a good thing!

I honestly don't know how Simmons structures his arguments like a 12 year old without his editor or hell even himself figuring out the massive holes in his arguments.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, that's why I didn't like the intro to this column. He's like "Everyone is feigning like this is such a bad thing he did. We all overreact so much." Then he goes on to say, "Well, his coaching career is over because what he did was so bad."

Bill is arguing with himself at that point.

It will be a while before I am going to be on the NFL's side and say they have done enough to get on top of this concussions issue. They were late to the game. Bill's basic argument ended up being that if the NFL wasn't going to do anything a few years ago, why start now? Absolutely not. The NFL needs to make changes and what makes it so hard is the game is so inherently violent. Bill has essentially asked the NFL to concede the concussion issue and not work on correcting it b/c they were late to the game.

It's clear to me this punishment is probably overly severe. The Saints appear to be getting hit hard. They are being made a scapegoat, but that doesn't mean we should go light on them. The very reason being this had been going on for three years and the Saints had been openly spitting in the face of NFL rules. The NFL wants to ensure this doesn't happen again, so they have come down hard on the first offender.

It's probably a bad analogy, but the best way to make sure no one fucks with you in prison is to beat the shit out of the first person who tries to fuck with you. It deters others from testing you. The same principle applies here. That's my prison analogy for the day.

Bill has some difficulty separating the bounty program from concussions. They are sort of separate. The NFL is just now getting serious about concussions, but the new-found seriousness about concussions in this situation is just part of the punishment. The biggest part of the punishment is b/c the Saints broke an NFL rule over three years.

His arguments here are bad. It's good the NFL is trying to make progress on concussions. It doesn't make up for their ignoring the issue in the past, but they need to take action and they are trying to do so.