Gregg Williams

Blame it on the game, not the Saints

In 1988, German producer and songwriter Frank Farian recorded a number of songs that he was convinced were quite good. Farian, eager to turn his recorded hits into record sales, determined that the multitude of vocalists and musicians who recorded the songs were unsalable. Where most producers would have just marketed the artists in the “Adult Contemporary” niche, Farian got creative instead. At a nightclub in Munich, Farian found the solution in Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, who would front the group Farian would name “Milli Vanilli.”

Milli Vanilli is now a part of pop culture lore, held as a cautionary tale for vocalists. Their story is not a warning against lip-syncing; rather, it warning against getting caught. We live in a culture in which the line between fiction and non-fiction is utterly blurred. We know this. Yet, we cry foul when the error of fiction is aberrant, which explains the precipitous fallout from Bounty Gate.

Football culture is necessarily violent. Sure, intent ought to be taken into consideration, but in discussing intent, the best we can do is muddy the term. The fact remains that football is a game of attrition. This is why vicious hits and the NFL are as linked as Laverne and Shirley, Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous, and Rush Limbaugh and Oxycodone (and/or demagoguery). Even if the NFL is no longer sanctioning such videos as “Thunder and Destruction” and “Strike Force,” the culture created by these is still thriving. YouTube bears witness.

A video of receiver Reggie Brown getting knocked out by a defender has over thirteen million views. The defender, Junior Rosegreen, spears a defenseless Brown, dislodging the ball in the process. Rosegreen then proceeds to demonstratively celebrate, sans helmet. Rosegreen didn’t celebrate alone, however. His entire team rattles in approval and we, the viewer, rattle along with approval.

“It’s what makes the game so popular,” linebacker Keith Brooking told SI’s Peter King. “People love the battle! People love the violence!”

No matter the penalty, no matter the fine, players will be exulted for severe contact and admonished for avoidance. If it were any other way, the instances of injury would be in decline, but they are not. In January 2011, a report by the NFL players union found that the 2010 season was an injury bonanza: between 2002-2009, the share of players on injured reserved averaged 59 percent; in 2010, the share rose to 63 percent.

The problem is that a naturally violent game cannot be made more violent. It also cannot be made less violent, despite Goodell’s best attempts. The violence is inherent because it has to be, as Howie Long claim in an interview with the USA Today.

“If you’re not launching to meet that receiver, two things will ultimately occur,” Long explained, “you’ll lose the locker room and not have a job.”

At the behest of the viewers who support their team only in victory, and of the media who immortalizes players in highlight reel after highlight reel, the NFL, not the New Orleans Saints, made the game what it is today.

Were it not for the egregiousness of their ensnarement, the Saints would have just been another team with a punishing defense, much like Mill Vanilli would have been just another manufactured pop star.  No charges of unethical behavior. No losing of seasons. Simply another team that prided itself on a physical style of play.

The Saints merely broke the illusion that football is a sport of strategy and controlled violence; they did not create. As such, they are not to be blame when this illusion is broke; the blame belongs to those who first believed the illusions in the first place.

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