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Is it any surprise NFL players try to hurt each other?

Apr 10, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

The National Football League on Monday affirmed that Sean Payton, the popular coach of the New Orleans Saints, will be suspended for a full year and will miss the upcoming NFL season. Payton's Saints, you may recall, are at the center of "bountygate," where players, allegedly, were paid to injure opponents in the violent world of the NFL.

And, by now, you have likely heard the audio that was released last week of now-suspended assistant coach Gregg Williams prior to the Saints' playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers last year.

His haunting instructions to his team to injure Frank Gore, the great 49ers running back, and receiver Kyle Williams are not justifiable.

"Kill the head and the body will die," Williams told his players about Gore.

"We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion," Williams told his players about Kyle Williams. "We need to [expletive] put a lick on him, move him to decide. He needs to decide."

And Williams also drove home the need to inflict a knee injury on receiver Michael Crabtree.

But, really, did those allegations surprise you? Is it any defense that, apparently, Williams has used the 'kill the head' metaphor for years?

Coaches, in their attempt to motivate their players, have used similar language, although arguably not as specific, since the beginning of organized sports.

"We need to rip his head off," is but one of a thousand sideline yells I heard during Riverton High School football games this past season.

"You need to jack somebody up," players from my day will remember RHS head coach Brent Englewright saying a thousand times.

And, is "bountygate" any different than "the code" in baseball?

Jason Turbow, in his book "The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime," recounts story after story about how baseball players protect their teammates and, they believe, the soul and integrity of the game by throwing at a player who showboated during his last home run or who purposely injured a teammate, or retaliating for a cheap stolen base when a team had a comfortable lead.

Turbow noted that in 2001, Major League baseball published a memo that said, "Umpires should be mindful that, given the skill level of most major league pitchers, a pitch that is thrown at the head of a hitter more likely than not was thrown there intentionally."

That gave the umpires the authority to eject pitchers, without warning, if they believed an inside pitch was delivered intentionally.

But even today, MLB allows "the code" to be a part of the game. You injure one of our guys, and one of your guys is going to pay, the code goes.

History has a way of fading, and players today have forgotten about Dickie Thon, Tony Conigliaro and Mickey Cochrane, all of whom were drilled in the head or face by beanballs, Turbow recounted.

Doesn't the NFL really continue to condone the vary actions that are now offending us in bountygate? We all watch Sports Center every Sunday night for the great plays, and yes, the bone-jarring hits. We drink the Kool-Aid.

So, what can change?

There is a difference in playing to injure and playing with intensity, and our youth leaders and coaches need to continue to drive that point home.

A great Colorado high school baseball coach explained to me over the weekend how his team responded when their best player was taken out at first base by an opposing runner who elbowed the defenseless first baseman, injuring his ribs and dislocating his shoulder during the state playoffs a few years ago.

"We don't retaliate," he said.

Instead, his pitcher looked toward the opposing dugout, removed his glove and showed six fingers to the opponents.

"You have six pitches left in your season," the pitcher told the opposition.

Two strikeouts and six pitches later, the losers had the message.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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