More Inconsistency from NFL on Player Safety

Jason O. Watson

 

I remember reading a disturbing report following last year’s NFC Championship between the eventual Super Bowl winners, the New York Giants, and the San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams gained fame in the worst way in the game by fumbling away two punts in what would be a 20-17 Giants overtime victory. After the game, a couple of Giants players sounded downright gleeful as they spoke of Williams’ concussion history.

“The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game,” New York linebacker Jacquian Williams said.

“He’s had a lot of concussions. We were just like, ‘We gotta put a hit on that guy’ … [Giants safety Taylor] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up,” wide receiver Devin Thomas added.

This went largely unnoticed at the time, it seemed, even though the players’ comments were deeply disturbing. Williams said this week that he was “shocked” that there were no penalties or consequences for the Giants’ remarks, especially considering that New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ comments on Kyle Williams when the Saints played the Niners—which were essentially the same as the Giants players’ comments–were used as evidence for his indefinite suspension.

Considering the similarities in the remarks from both Gregg Williams, Jacquian Williams and Thomas, Kyle Williams said he expected “exactly the same type” of penalties for the Giants as for the Saints, but no fines or disciplinary action (that we know of) was taken. (Hmm, there sure are a lot of Williamses involved in this story.)

There are two issues here that jump out at me. One is just how difficult it is to enforce player safety and punish violators. The Giants are aware, like all teams, of their opponents’ injury reports. Knowing Williams had a history of concussions, what were they supposed to do? Avoid hitting him? Take it easy on him? Play two-hand touch? There weren’t any dirty hits on the Williams from the Giants–that I saw–in that game. If a team puts a player on the field, it is presumed that the team thinks he is healthy enough for the game and the player, himself, is aware of the dangers of an NFL game.

The second issue is how inconsistent the league and commissioner Roger Goodell have been in handling the matter of player safety, particularly as it relates to concussions. Now, I have absolutely no sympathy for the Saints. They broke the rules and I’m really sick of hearing their players and fans whine about how “everyone was doingi t” while completely sidestepping the fact of the team’s wrongdoing.

But why do Gregg Williams’ comments on Kyle Williams lead (in part) to an indefinite suspension, and the nearly identical comments by Jacquian Williams and Thomas lead to absolutely nothing? I won’t deny that it’s a complicated and difficult issue to adjudicate, but Goodell and the league have done a poor job in being fair and consistent on player safety (18 game seasons, anyone?). I’m with Kyle Williams being “shocked” on this one.

Though a year late, it is good that this instance is getting some attention in the media because it highlights both the difficulties and the failures of the league trying to enforce player safety in a game that is predicated on big hits and an anything-to-win mentality.


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