Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Time for Roger Goodell to ban Gregg Williams from the NFL for life

There are moments in time when leaders have to lead, when leaders have to stand up and be counted. National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has arrived at what will be one of the defining moments in his career as NFL commissioner, how he decides to deal with “Bounty Gate.”

Goodell has made player safety one of his most important priorities, making his decision regarding Gregg Williams’ NFL future simple and straight forward – for the good of the game, Goodell must ban Williams from ever coaching in the National Football League.

“We will always make sure that player health and safety is the No. 1 priority in the NFL. We will not quit. We are not done yet. We’re going to do what we possibly can to help our retired players, the current players and future players, by making the game safer,” Goodell said regarding player safety during his Super Bowl XLVI press conference.

“And we will do that with rules, we will do that by improving the equipment, and we will do it by making sure that we pioneer research that’s going to make sure we understand all there is about brain injuries, brain disease, and make sure we’re being responsible leaders.”

Along with the moral and ethical issues Goodell is facing, the league could be dealing with a myriad of legal challenges relating to Gregg Williams.

Friday, Williams admitted that he had violated the NFL’s bounty rule between the 2009 and 2011 seasons while he was the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator. Various reports linked similar violations of the NFL’s bounty rules throughout his 22 year coaching career in Houston, Tennessee, Buffalo and Washington.

Ryan Rodenberg, an attorney and a sports management professor at Florida State University, told the Chicago Tribune he believes assault and battery charges could be coming against the teams that are involved.

The Chicago Tribune reported: “Federal prosecutors could also bring charges, said Paul Callan, a former New York City prosecutor who is an attorney at New York's Callan, Koster, Brady & Brennan. If bounties were paid for games played outside a team's home state, then interstate telephone calls, computer use and travel could trigger federal charges, he said.

According to the Tribune report, charges could include wire fraud, conspiracy and racketeering. Tax evasion charges were another possibility for the money that players earned for making big hits.

Adding to the growing legal debate, The New York Times reported NFL teams could be held liable as a direct result of the violation of the NFL’s bounty rule.

“As a general rule, those who participate in sports assume the inherent risk of injury therein,” said Matt Mitten, the director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School, in the New York Times report. “You break your arm? Suffer concussion? Broken leg? But what most courts have held is you do not assume the risk of an intentional or recklessly caused injury. Contact is an inherent element of N.F.L. football; it’s not enough just to contact someone.

“I would see something as a bounty, where you’re intending to injure someone so he’s knocked out of the game, or reckless, the deliberate disregard of a high probability of harm — those are the types of situations where the courts have said: ‘That’s not a risk that people assume. There is potential liability to those who suffer injury.’ ”

If Williams and those involved are forced to face criminal charges, it won’t be the first time sports world has been forced to deal with the courts as a direct result of what took place during a sports event.

In 2000, former Boston Bruins hockey player Marty McSorley was charged in a British Columbia court with assault after McSorley smashed his hockey stick on the head of Vancouver Canucks forward Donald Brashear. Brashear struck his head on the ice, lost consciousness and suffered memory lapses.

In 1979, an NFL player faced charges that dated back to an incident that took place during a 1973 NFL game. According to a New York Times report, former Denver Broncos defensive back Dale Hackbart was injured when the Cincinnati Bengals’ Boobie Clark hit Hackbart with a forearm to the back of his neck after an interception. No penalty flag was thrown when the play took place, but Hackbart was later found to have fractured his neck.

The trial court ruled that a player cannot be held responsible for violent conduct on the field. But the appeals court reversed that decision, determining that players — and potentially teams — could be held responsible if they act with reckless disregard for opponents’ safety.

“The question is what would be considered an ordinary part of the game?” Gabe Feldman, the director of the sports law program at Tulane University Law School told The New York Times. “The real question is: Do players assume the risk of violent conduct with intent to injure that is motivated by a bounty? But if you add in conspiracy — are coach-led conspiracies to injure part of the game? And if they’re not, how do you tell the difference between the two? How do you know if it’s just a normal hit versus a hard hit delivered for $1,500?”

Friday, when the NFL announced the Saints bounty rules violations; the league announced they had reviewed more than 50,000 pages of evidence, including e-mails that documented the bounty system – information that could potentially be used as evidence in a lawsuit.

“If it was a lawsuit by an injured player against the player who injured him, then he may be able to hold that player’s club liable,” Mitten said. “Employers are liable for employees’ torts committed within the scope of employment. If you could show the coaching staff directed this, the club could be liable.

“Pretty clearly, it would be tough to hold the league liable unless you could show they knew this was going on and failed to take any effective steps to stop it, which is what they are doing now.”

Williams has already admitted he played an active role in what took place while he was working with the Saints and tried to brush aside his actions with a simple apology.

"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," Williams said. "Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."

How can anyone take Williams’s apology seriously? He stands accused of similar actions throughout his entire 22 year NFL coaching career.

National Football League contracts are not guaranteed. An NFL player’s career, his ability to earn a living as a football player can end on one play. Imagine the legal ramifications if a player who Williams’ coached injured an opponent and ended that opponent’s football career.

Roger Goodell owes it to every man who played in the NFL to ban Gregg Williams from ever coaching in the National Football League again. Williams lost his right to be an NFL coach when he decided his coaching philosophy would include creating a reward system that encouraged the men he was coaching to attempt to deliberately injure their opponents.

Sources used in this Insider Report: The Chicago Tribune and New York Times. For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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