On April 5, the public and the NFL became aware for the first time of recorded comments from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that urge defensive players to target various members of the 49ers offense for injury. Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the NFLPA was aware of the contents of the tape before the tape was released.
Under an inaccurate headline, which claims that the NFLPA actually had possession of the tapes, Mortensen explains that it’s not known whether the NFLPA actually had possession of the tapes. At a minimum, former Saints linebacker and NFLPA Executive Committee member Scott Fujita shared with the NFLPA details of Williams’ comments and the contents of the tape that filmmaker Sean Pamphilon “had made accessible” to Fujita.
Although the fact that Fujita knew about the contents of the tape will spark speculation that Fujita was the so-called “mediator” who ultimately gave Pamphilon the green light to release the audio over the objections of former Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason, Mortensen explains that the NFLPA was “somewhat disappointed” by the fact that the tapes were released, since the fact that the league didn’t know about the tape gave the union a strategic advantage in connection with the efforts to minimize or prevent player suspensions.
The argument apparently will be that, by comparing Williams’ comments to the tape of the Saints-49ers playoff game, it’s clear that the players disregarded Williams’ rhetoric. That’s a contention that likely would be made for most if not all of the three-year bounty program, and it mirrors a strategy that men like Saints coach Sean Payton were expected to employ during the April 12 appeal hearings. Williams’ words, under this specific argument, reflected an exaggerated effort to get players in the right mindset to play, with no connection between the offers of cash for injury and actual injury.
Another possible argument is that, to the extent tapes of any of the games played by the Saints over the last three seasons suggest an effort to inflict injury on an opposing player (e.g., Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC title game), the players were coerced by Williams into doing his bidding.
The problem is that those two points don’t necessarily mesh, and the NFLPA ultimately may have to choose between contending that the players ignored Williams and that the players felt compelled to obey him.
Regardless, any element of surprise coming from the tapes was lost the moment Pamphilon decided to publish them.