THE SAINTS, MASCULINITY AND OUR DESIRE TO WIN

>As many of you sports' fans have probably already heard, this past week the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. There is evidence that he participated in a "bounty" system in which he urged his players to hurt opponents. Williams is an extreme example of what is wrong in sports today with our "win at all costs" attitude.

Here is an excerpt from the CBS news website ( the full link can be found here at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57410190/audio-spread-of-ex-saints-coach-urging-injury/ ) of some of the outlandish remarks that Williams made to his players :

Williams appears to target specific body parts of several 49ers for injury, including running back Frank Gore's head.

"We've got to make sure we do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head. We need to decide on how many times we can meet Frank Gore's head," Williams is heard saying.

They also allegedly targeted tight end Vernon Davis's ankle.

"We need to decide how many times we can bull rush and we can (expletive) clip Vernon Davis's ankles over the pile," Williams is heard saying.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree's already-damaged knee ligament was an apparent target.

"He becomes human when you (expletive) take out that outside ACL," Williams says.

Wide receiver Kyle Williams, coming back from a concussion, was a target too.

"That little wide receiver, number 10, about his concussion. We need to (expletive) put a lick on him right now," Williams says on the tape.

First off, I know football is a very physical and violent sport. I am not one to relive my "glory days", but I have a fair amount of experience in the sport. I played Pop Warner football for five years and then high school football as a fullback, outside linebacker and special teams player. I was a New Jersey All-State selection as a linebacker mostly because I was a physical player and I hit opponents as hard as I could whenever I had the chance. My high school coach made me practice through recurring neck stingers and a cracked rib in my senior year. I also trained with an NFL strength coach throughout high school and college who pushed me as hard as possible in the weight room. My point is, I know the football mentality and it is extremely tough at times. I think that can be a great thing for young athletes to learn from though, as sometimes life can be tough. There is a type of resilience, discipline and perseverance that can be learned through football that is unmatched in any other sport.

However, taking that type of mental and physical toughness and twisting it to the degree that Williams did is sickening. The NFL made the right call in suspending him "indefinitely" and frankly, I hope that the man never is allowed to coach again. Not only did he disgrace the NFL and football, but this was a completely shame for all of sports. I believe that this incident can have a silver lining though, if we learn from it. There are a couple of poignant aspects to this story that really stand out to me.

The first thing we should examine in this case is the idea of masculinity within the male sports' fraternity.
I imagine that Williams thought he was a real tough guy, a man's man and that this is what men did to win. The fact is though, Williams is a coward. First, no real man would ever believe that it was acceptable to seriously injure another human being to win a game, no matter what level of competition. Furthermore, this shows that Williams was acting like a scared little boy because he did not want to play the 49ers best players. When we compete as athletes and as men, we should want to be able to play the best to test our own abilities. We should be thankful that there are great athletes who are playing against us and we should want them to be at their full capacity so that they can push us to our highest levels. In this sense, competition is not about winning at all costs, but pushing ourselves to test and reach our full potentials. How could we ever want to injure someone else who was helping us to do that?

Secondly, this story highlights how distorted and delusional we can become in sports due to our desire to win, whether we are players, coaches, fans or parents. As Al Davis used to say, "Just win baby." That's it, that's all. With this mentality, what the Saints' organization allowed to happen, actually becomes understandable and some will even defend their actions! For instance, people are saying that Williams' behavior goes on in every NFL locker room, but that the Saints were just "unlucky" in that they were caught. I have a hard time believing that rhetoric was this extreme in other locker rooms. But, I am sure that the "winning is everything" mentality permeated every organization, as it runs deep through all sports, from youth leagues to professional teams. This mentality caters towards destructive and irresponsible coaching like we see here, and that is where the real problem lies.

Now, this Saints drama is just an extreme example, but this story could be the perfect wake-up call for all of sports. This is the type of behavior that is created when you live in a culture of "win at all costs". The real problem is that it does not just exist within sports, but permeates our entire culture. Just look at the cover page of the newspaper everyday and you will see an example of someone who has broken the law or acted irresponsibly and unethically to win at their own game. Examples from the past few years that come to mind are people like Bernie Madoff, Rod Blagojevich and the Wall Street brokers that created the derivatives that helped sink our entire economy. Everybody wants to win, but at what cost? Are we willing to hurt and negatively impact others to win for ourselves? In this sense, it's important for us to examine and understand how we use sports to educate young men and women in this country.

Before every lacrosse game in high school, college and the pros, after we shook hands and said good luck, I would run to the crease and get down on a knee and pray (this was in the B.T. ages, Before Tebowing). My prayer was the same every game. It was, "Please help keep everyone safe and please help us all play our best." For the most part, my prayers were answered throughout my career and I was always thankful for that.

So, the lesson here is : Yes, be your best and push yourself your hardest to reach your full potential and win, but also respect your opponents for doing the same and pushing you to your upper limits, as well. In this way, everybody truly wins.