Saints’ Gregg Williams Urged Team to Aim for Head in Speech

Former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams repeatedly encouraged his players to injure the San Francisco 49ers in a speech on the eve of their playoff game last season, according to a filmmaker who recorded his comments.

The profanity laced audio was provided to Yahoo! Sports and posted on the website of filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who had been given access to various team functions for much of the 2011 National Football League season, according to Yahoo.

Saints coach Sean Payton is appealing a yearlong suspension for a bounty program run by Williams and exposed by the league last month, with a hearing before Commissioner Roger Goodell set for today in New York, the Associated Press reported.

Williams, now defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely. He and Payton have apologized for the bounty program.

Neither Greg Bensel, a spokesman for the Saints, nor Artis Twyman, a spokesman for Rams, immediately returned e-mails seeking comment on the audio.

The audio’s release also comes as hundreds of former NFL players are suing the league for ignoring the consequences of head injuries.

At one point during the speech, Williams gestured with his hand to indicate that he would pay for the first hard hit on 49ers quarterback Alex Smith’s chin, according to Pamphilon. Williams also encouraged his players to injure the knee of 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

‘Affect the Head’

Several times during the speech, Williams said, “Kill the head and the body will follow,” an expression that can be used as a psychological ploy. He then got more specific.

“Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head,” Williams said. “Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head.”

Williams specifically encouraged the team to “put a lick on” receiver Kyle Williams to “find out” if he was still suffering from the effects of a December concussion.

It was the last game Williams would coach for the Saints, who fell 36-32 to the 49ers.

Former NFL players including Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon have sued the NFL in more than a dozen complaints over allegations that the league ignored the consequences of head injuries in order to promote the sport.

Stiffest Penalty

Williams, who was hired to be defensive coordinator of the Rams after the season, was suspended last month, joining Payton and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis in receiving the stiffest penalties ever handed to an NFL team because they ran a program that paid bonuses to players who injured opponents.

Loomis was suspended for half a season and the team was fined $500,000 and stripped of two draft picks.

Between 22 and 27 Saints players were involved in the program over the past three seasons, the NFL said March 2 in an e-mailed release following an investigation that began in 2010. The league has yet to hand down penalties against any player.

Set up by Williams, the Saints’ bonus pool may have reached as much as $50,000 during the 2009 playoffs, which culminated in the team’s Super Bowl victory against the Indianapolis Colts, according to the NFL release. Williams occasionally contributed funds himself, the NFL said.

Players were among those who funded the program, which gave cash for plays such as interceptions, fumble recoveries and hits that injured the opposition, the NFL said. All such payments violate NFL rules for non-contract bonuses.

Favre Bounty

Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma was the only player specifically named by the NFL, for offering $10,000 to any player who knocked Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 National Football Conference championship game.

Players would receive as much as $1,500 for a “knockout,” in which an opposing player was unable to return to the game, and $1,000 for a “cart-off” in which opposing players were carried off the field, according to the release. Payments doubled or tripled during the playoffs, according to the NFL investigation.

“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it,” Williams said in a statement that followed the league’s release. “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role.”

Pamphilon was the writer and director of the documentary “Run Ricky Run,” which was part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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