LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A lanista stands in the middle of a room full of gladiators. The big battle is just moments away, and the trainer implores them to show no mercy to their opponents, to give the fans who they came for. Violence and death.
That was ancient Rome. The patrons of the battles were bloodthirsty, and to them, this was nothing more than entertainment.
Today’s Rome is the National Football League. Bounty Gate has proven that.
Gregg Williams is a modern-day lanista. As a coach, he trained his gladiators to be prepared for the battles waged in modern day coliseums across the country. He also urged his players to severely injure opponents. And for that, Williams has received a lifetime ban from the NFL.
Now the debate is raging as to whether the punishment is too harsh. I heard Tedy Bruschi and another former NFL player, Darren Woodson, on ESPN the other day saying that Williams deserves another chance.
“Just about everybody deserves a second chance,” Woodson said, and Bruschi agreed. Bruschi said it’s not fair to take away a man’s livelihood.
Excuse me, Tedy, but what Williams did in putting bounties out on opposing players was in turn trying to take away their livelihood. Is that fair?
In an audio tape recently released, you can hear Williams, then an assistant coach for New Orleans, telling his team to purposely target the “outside ACL” of a player, or target the head of an opposing player with a concussion history, or to “clip” another player’s ankles.
Here is what he said to the Saints about San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith: “Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head.” He also said to target the outside ACL of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and to injure Kyle Williams and Vernon Davis.
Yes, football is a violent sport. And while this might not be a popular statement, it’s too violent. It won’t be long until a death happens on the field. It’s happened before, and almost was the death of the game.
In 1905, there were 19 fatalities nationwide. Now in those days the game hardly resembled what is played today. In its earliest days, it was a mob game. The 1984 Harvard-Yale game, known as the “Hampden Park Blood Bath,” resulted in crippling injuries for four players. The game was suspended until 1897. The annual Army-Navy game was suspended from 1894-1898 for similar reasons. Things got so bad that, in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to shut down the game if drastic changes were not made.
Of course, changes were made, and the game became safer, to a degree. And it thrived and continued to grow into the monster it is today.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has tried to make the game safer, but according to other former players, speeches like the one Williams gave have been commonplace for years.
So what does that say about the coaches who encourage players to injure other players? To me it says that they have no regard for their fellow man. And any player that intentionally goes out of his way to hurt a fellow player, well, to me that man is a coward, plain and simple.
Football is supposed to be a sport, not a death match. Yes, fans “ooh” and “ahh” when one player delivers a hard hit onto another. I’ve been guilty of that myself. You get caught up in the moment.
But that doesn’t make it right.
Football is getting closer and closer to the gladiator matches of ancient Rome. I love football. But I wouldn’t be opposed to taking the violence out of the game. I know that I am in the minority when it comes to that. Most fans love the fact that football is so violent. That’s what they love about the sport.
And what does that say about our society?