Williams could be NFL's sacrificial lamb

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to throw the book at former New Orleans Saints'...

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to throw the book at former New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams over his "pay-for-pain" program. (MIKE SEGAR/Reuters)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:29 PM ET

TORONTO - In the time of Henry VIII, John Hussey lost his head for causing the king grief. Once upon a President Richard Nixon had John Mitchell as his fall guy and Jean Chretien sponsored his own soft landing all over Paul Martin.

Scapegoat Mountain includes such sporting sacrificial lambs as Scott Norwood, Al Downing and Steve Bartman, with Wes Welker living on the outskirts. And, it looks like NFL czar Roger Goodell is about to welcome Gregg Williams to the neighbourhood.

Goodell is sensitive about the NFL and any perception that it condones or encourages gratuitous violence. Having one of your coaches caught running a pay-for-pain scheme is not helping.

“God forbid this is true. This will be earth-shattering,” Goodell is said to have replied when informed of Williams’ bounty hunting shenanigans. Such a reaction could leave a skeptic believing Goodell is either naive or disingenuous about the reality of life between football’s white lines. Still, while Williams and the Saints are surely not the only ones ever to go head-hunting, Goodell is believed to be serious and sincere about wanting the practice to stop.

“This is a seminal moment in the culture change we have to make,” a source close to Goodell told Peter King in a story in this week’s Sports Illustrated. “This has to stop now. Every team needs to hear the message that we’re in a different era now, where this appalling behaviour is going to end.”

So, Saints’ head coach Sean Payton may be in big trouble as well, with one league source involved in the investigation saying the way Payton ran things “reminds me of the Nixon White House.”

Tuesday, Payton and Saints GM Mickey Loomis fired a pre-emptive missive: “(The violations) happened under our watch. We take full responsibility,” said the statement. “We understand the negative impact it has had on our game. Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans.”

Linebacker Scott Fujita was also into evasive action. Now with the Browns, he admitted participation in what Williams called his “pay for performance program” when both were with the Saints, but that he never paid bounties for injuries. “Over the years I’ve paid out a lot of money for big plays like interceptions, sacks and special teams tackles inside the 20. But I’ve never made a payment for intentionally injuring another player.”

Whatever he paid for, it indicates that the “appalling behaviour” in the game is deeply ingrained. Fujita, as it happens, is on the players’ union executive, and one of the NFL’s most out-spoken proponents for improving player safety.

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