The NFLPA has addressed the question of whether it was aware of the Gregg Williams audio before it went public with a statement acknowledging that, indeed, it was.
‘The NFLPA was aware of the existence of the Gregg Williams audio prior to its release,” the union claims in a statement. “We learned of the tape as part of our effort to obtain any and all information related to an alleged pay-to-injure scheme. We had no control of the content and did not make a determination on the method of its release. To date, the NFL has not provided the NFLPA with detailed evidence of the existence of such a program.”
The most intriguing part of the statement comes at the end. The NFLPA continues to insist that the NFL “has not provided the NFLPA with detailed evidence of the existence of [a pay-to-injure] program.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean such evidence doesn’t exist, especially in light of the Williams audio. It could mean that, if such evidence does exist, the NFL hasn’t given it to the NFLPA.
It also could mean that the NFL has produced evidence that it believes to prove the existence of a “pay-to-injure” program, but that the NFLPA isn’t buying it.
The union, after initially suggesting that coaches coerced players to participate in the program, apparently is attempting to engineer a defense based on the notion that there’s no connection between the “pay-to-injure” program and any actual injury inflicted by players for money. That, basically, the coaching staff tried to induce players to inflict injury on opposing players, but that the players either chose not to do so, or were unable to do so.
It won’t be an easy sell, especially in light of the way the Saints defense battered quarterback Brett Favre during the 2009 NFC title game, including at least one illegal hit that was flagged — and at least one that was missed.
Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that players apparently contributed to the pool that was intended to go to players who injured members of the opposing offense, and that actually went to defensive players who made big plays. Even without the injury aspect, giving money to and receiving money from this off-the-books fund violates the rules.
That said, the concept of pay-to-injure, as the NFLPA calls it, has a much more sinister feel, and it’s the kind of thing that could catch the attention of state or federal authorities. If the NFLPA can successfully strip that dynamic away from these circumstances, it becomes much harder to suspend players. Or to prosecute them.