Williams' words should inspire NFL culture change


Williams' words should inspire NFL culture change

Forgive my tardiness for weighing in on the big news that broke last week while my family allowed me to tag along on a spring-break vacation . . . The report filed by Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver on then-New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' playoff-eve speech prior to the game against the 49ers was shocking to many.REWIND: Williams' speech instructed Saints to injure 49ers
Then I listened to film-maker Sean Pamphilon's recording of Williams' talk, which was designed to whip his guys into a frenzy. I had several reactions:--No. 1, the Saints defensive players deserve a lot of credit for not acting on Williams' words.Williams implored his players to head-hunt against Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams. He instructed his guys to inflict a major knee injury on Michael Crabtree and go after Vernon Davis' ankles.REWIND: Kenny Williams reacts to Saints audio recording
But from what I could tell, the Saints players did nothing to suggest they had any intent of causing a catastrophic injury to 49ers players. It was a clean game.Ted Ginn sustained the only 49ers injury in the game. Ginn fell hard in the second quarter, injuring his right knee, upon being shoved legally by Saints linebacker Martez Wilson within the 5-yard zone. Ginn returned briefly but could not finish the game.--Gregg Williams' greater offense against the 49ers last season was how he approached the first exhibition game after the lockout. He dialed up one "cover zero" blitz after another when the 49ers, still in the early stages of installing their new system, had precious little time to iron out their protection schemes.That was reckless. And it showed no respect for the men who play the game.That carried over to his words before the NFC divisional playoff game. Williams spoke about the opponent as if they were sub-human.--Some former players, such as Randy Cross and Ross Tucker, suggested on Twitter that there was nothing unusual about Williams' speech.Many others had differing views. Cris Carter called for a lifetime ban for Williams. Warren Sapp, in comments to the Bay Area News Group, called Williams' talk "the most heinous, egregious thing in the history of this game."But even on the 49ers, there was a split. Donte Whitner described it as "disgusting." But Carlos Rogers, speaking on KNBR, supported his former coordinator, saying, "He's one of the coaches I admire and would always love to play for."REWIND: Whitner says bounty penalties not severe enough
--It is certainly not uncommon for coaches to emphasize physical points of vulnerability on the opposition. New York Giants players Jacquian Williams and Devin Thomas suggested there was a coordinated effort in the NFC championship game to target Kyle Williams' head because of his concussion history."Players are held accountable for their actions on the field," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in response to a CSNBayArea.com inquiry in the days after the 49ers-Giants game. "There were no illegal hits to the head or neck area against Kyle Williams. There was no conduct by the Giants of any kind that would suggest an effort to injure Kyle Williams in any way."The same could be said about the Saints. Words are one thing; but the Saints did not follow Williams' directives.--This kind of talk, apparently, is part of the culture of football. But it certainly does not mean that it should be accepted. And it does not mean that things will always be like this.At one point in Williams' speech he tells his defensive players, "It's a great game. It's a production business."People who play this "great game" at the highest level should be protected as much as possible. Of course, there will always be high levels of risk to those who play it. That is not going to change.But football is a sport that changes more than any other. There are significant rules changes every season. In trying to legislate in recent seasons against unnecessary hits to the head, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell deserves a lot of credit for trying to make the game better for those who play it.--It's a production business, as Gregg Williams said, and the bottom line is that Williams did not produce in that playoff game against the 49ers.Tight end Vernon Davis roasted Saints safeties Malcolm Jenkins in single coverage. (That's right, during crucial parts of the game, Williams called for single coverage on the 49ers' only weapon in the passing game.)The 49ers exploited a Gregg Williams tendency for the game-winning touchdown on Alex Smith's touchdown pass to Davis, in front of safety Roman Harper, in the closing seconds, too.--Gregg Williams stressed the importance of injuring the 49ers' best players in his night-before-game speech. Certainly, the Saints' chances of winning would've increased if the 49ers have been without some of their top playmakers.After all, the Saints were impacted when Whitner knocked out running back Pierre Thomas early in the game with a legal helmet-to-helmet hit.Injuries will always have an impact on football games. That part of the game will not change.What this Gregg Williams' episode has taught us is that it should be an unspoken -- and, definitely, unrecorded -- part of the game.

Keenum throws four interceptions, Rams lose to Giants in London


Keenum throws four interceptions, Rams lose to Giants in London


LONDON -- The New York Giants capitalized on four interceptions of Case Keenum to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 17-10 Sunday in the first NFL game played at London's home of English rugby.

Keenum, coming off the best start of his career, had the Rams at the Giants 15-yard line with 50 seconds left when he lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off. His intended target, Brian Quick, had broken off his route.

Keenum has thrown an interception on the Rams' final offensive play of the last three games.

The win kept the Giants (4-3) in good shape in the ultra-competitive NFC East, where no one has a losing record. The Rams (3-4) lost their third in a row.

The Giants entered Sunday with the worst turnover differential in the NFC at minus-10. That became -11 on their second play from scrimmage as tight end Larry Donnell coughed up the ball on the Giants 35, leading to the Rams' lone touchdown, a 10-yard grab by Tavon Austin.

But the Rams were unable to build on that early edge and instead hit the self-destruct button. Keenum threw two interceptions, both off high-sailing deflections, to safety Landon Collins, and two more in the end zone to cornerback Rodgers-Cromartie.

Collins returned his first pick 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, running from right to left across the field and making several Rams miss tackles before he bowled over center Tim Barnes to draw the Giants even.

Collins' second pick set up the winning drive, which featured a 22-yard catch by Odell Beckman Jr. to the Rams 6. Rashad Jennings from the 1.

The Rams' final two possessions ended in the end-zone interceptions by Rodgers-Cromartie, the pro-Giants crowd of more than 74,000 roaring their approval.


The Giants took the field looking jet-lagged, Rams the savvy travelers. That perhaps reflected the fact Los Angeles chose to fly overnight from Detroit the previous Sunday for a full week in England, while the Giants did most of their preparations at home before arriving Friday in London.

The Giants gained a single first down in the first quarter on an 11-yard completion to Sterling Shepard. The Rams, by contrast, controlled 11:36 of the first-quarter clock, gained seven first downs with a balanced attack, and scored on their first two drives to lead 10-0 with less than 10 minutes gone.


New York struggled for a seventh straight week to move the ball on the ground, frequently attempting ineffective draw plays from shotgun formation straight into Aaron Donald's turf. The Rams' run defense was stout up the middle despite the absence of Michael Brockers (thigh injury).

The Giants finished with 36 yards rushing.


Austin rightly celebrated scoring the opening TD, but much of his game was a head-scratcher. He fumbled twice, one out of bounds after a catch, one on an ill-advised punt return that he recovered - and his butterfingered catch attempt gift-wrapped Collins' interception. He also fair-caught another punt inside the Rams 5.

Austin redeemed himself with a nice 19-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter. He made two good catch-and-runs in the fourth quarter, once juking Rodgers-Cromartie for a first down. But Austin could do nothing to contest the first interception ball thrown to Rodgers-Cromartie minutes later.


New Giants kicker Robbie Gould made a 29-yard field goal in his only attempt and converted two extra points. He replaced Josh Brown, who was placed on the NFL's commissioner exemption list after more information surfaced concerning his abusive behavior toward his ex-wife.


Giants kick returner Dwayne Harris suffered what looked like a serious injury when returning the final punt of the first half. He lay still on the ground for several minutes, was immobilized and carted off the field as teammates prayed. But he returned to field the first punt of the fourth quarter. Neither team reported any other serious injuries.

Anthem singer at Heat-76ers game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Heat-76ers game kneels during performance

MIAMI -- A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami did so while kneeling at midcourt.

Denasia Lawrence opened her jacket just before she started to sing, revealing a "Black Lives Matter" shirt, then dropped to her left knee and performed the song. She said it was her way of protesting racial oppression.

"We're being unjustly killed and overly criminalized," Lawrence wrote early Saturday in a Facebook post. "I took the opportunity to sing and kneel to show that we belong in this country and that we have the right to respectfully protest injustices against us."

Miami Heat officials said they had no advance knowledge of Lawrence's plan to protest. Lawrence, a social worker, kept the shirt hidden until her performance.

"I didn't get paid to sing the national anthem nor was this moment about any sort of fame," Lawrence wrote. "Black Lives Matter is far larger than a hashtag, it's a rallying cry."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand while it is played. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports - and many levels, from youth all the way to professional - have followed his lead in various ways.

Heat players and coaches stood side by side for the anthem before their game with Philadelphia, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. The team plans to continue standing that way for the anthem this season as a show of unity.

"Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday in New York. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though he was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."