I took a moment to listen Mike Golic's thoughts on Gregg Williams "pay for injury" ring yesterday. I followed that up by listening to Darren Woodson's thoughts. Perhaps it was too much ESPN, but I was left with the impression that some significant portion of the NFL (retired?) player-base doesn't really understand how this looks from the outside.
What bothered me was the equivocating, the unwillingness to deal, head on, with what, precisely, Williams did. Instead Golic and Woodson (both of whom I have love for) would change the subject to players giving out money for interceptions, fumbles or big hits. Whatever one thinks of players putting in on that sort of pot, we really should be clear that Gregg Williams is a manager who was not simply paying for "big hits" but for actual injury:
Players received $1,500 for a "knockout," in which an opponent was unable to return to the game, and $1,000 for a "cart-off," in which rivals were carried off the field. Payments doubled or tripled during the playoffs.
The sense I got from Golic and some of the other players was "Yes, but.." and then a pivot to "Fans will never understand." That's almost certainly true. It is also true of any vendor who seeks to market a product; the costumer can't really understand what it takes to bring the product to fruition, in the way the craftsman can.
But if you want to market your product, you need for your customer to not be horrified by your process, should it come to light. More, if you aspire to future dominance, you need for future generations to not be horrified. I'm not getting the sense that many of these guys understand the brand degradation problem that this new understanding of football violence presents. It doesn't mean the next five Super Bowls won't make a ton of money. It means that over a decade or two you really could see the brand erode as fans are regularly confronted with the long-term results of the behavior they endorse.
The entertainment field is highly competitive. There's no reason why the NFL has to occupy the dominant position it currently enjoys. There's so much competition for eyeballs these days. And there are so many enjoyable ways to spend your free-time without endorsing the intentional injuring of workers.
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power