Saturday, April 07, 2012

Coach class

The recently leaked audio of Gregg Williams’ now-infamous pre-game speech is a lot of things, but it’s not the icing on the bounty cake.

This recording doesn’t shine light on anything that wasn’t already overcome with glare. All it does is allow people to say, “Told you so.” Gregg Williams is probably guilty as hell of many terrible things. But this isn’t why. This is strictly circumstantial evidence.

Talk is cheap — cheaper than cheap hits, even. I can’t count how many times I’ve shouted something like this during a Saints game: “I HATE YOU, [beloved star player]! I HOPE YOU BREAK YOUR NECK AND DIE IN A FIRE MANY YEARS AFTER YOU HAVE TO MOVE BACK IN WITH YOUR PARENTS BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO STUPID AND/OR PARALYZED FOR GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT AFTER FOOTBALL!!”

(Yeah, I get pretty specific. And I’ve actually said far worse at times.)

Yeah, it’s not classy, nor is it particularly indicative of my real feelings. I don’t really want Beloved Star Player to die in a fire, nor am I excited if the injury I call for comes to fruition. In fact, it would spook me if it did.

But of course, I’m not a coach. Coaches are supposed to be responsible leaders. And even-handed checks on player impulses, according to no one who has played football. Football coaches generally are portrayed as one of two stereotypes: 1) sage team leaders or 2) sociopathic heels. The truth is that most football coaches exhibit flashes of both. And that’s because they’re humans, and humans do that.

In the audio clip, Williams got caught being the sociopathic heel. It doesn’t help his case. But is it outrageous, or even that uncommon? No.

I heard stuff like this in high school. Everyone who has played football, or otherwise spent time in a locker room pre-game, has on some level. This is exactly the kind of bluster testosterone-fueled coaches routinely pump into locker rooms to fire up the team. It’s not always that specific or creepy, but there’s never any shortage of potentially controversial material that would be shocking out of context. It’s understood by both coaches and players that you aren’t literally out to cripple or otherwise hurt anyone beyond the scope of stopping them on a play. It’s verbal hyperbole. It’s meant to dial your mind to 10 on the frenzy scale, so that you play at 5.

It’s not in a team’s best interest to play dirty. Cheap shots only invite yourself to be targets of revenge cheap shots. Anyway, I’d guess most players (certainly the ones I’ve known) want the pride of beating the first string, not dispatching them to make easy work of the bench.

But even if the coach is 100 percent serious about such things, most players will be on board with it for only so long. And clearly, the Saints did not put Williams’ words into action in the 49ers game. (The only cheap shot I recall, in fact, came against Pierre Thomas at the hands of the 49ers defense.)

The Williams clip is an example of selective, retroactive outrage. Selective because it asks us to pretend that it is a startling revelation not previously heard in the heated, windy annals of locker-room talk. Retroactive because this is circumstantial evidence to pile on top of the concrete evidence we already have against Williams.

It will be interesting to see how this affects pre-game speeches from here on out, especially in the Saints’ locker room...

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