I've been spending the last couple of weeks listening to the comments being made surrounding the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program.
First, let me say that to intentionally try to hurt someone isn't what the sport is about. However, every time a player steps onto the field, he expects to hit, as well as get hit, as hard as humanly possible.
I played football from the time I was 10 to 26 years old. I can't count the times a coach said things along the lines of, "take his head off", "punish him", "let him know he is going to get hit", "make him afraid to come across the middle", or simply, "knock the living s out of him". That wasn't only told to me when I got older, it was from the beginning until the end.
I'm not sure people understand the mentality of the game and the people that play it and coach it. Football, in many ways, is surrounded by a barbaric attitude and atmosphere. It's about ego, manhood, and machismo to the one hundredth degree.
My biggest change in the game came in college. I played wide receiver at the University of Arizona (was cut by 2 NFL teams, played in the old World League and part of a season in the CFL). Every freshmen that arrived on campus was a star in high school, but from the minute you arrive to the program it's made clear you are nothing until you prove yourself.
It might begin with making you sing at lunch or dinner in front of everyone, or making you pick up an upperclassman's dinner tray or carrying pads after practice. It's a right of passage to see how you handle being subjected to various degrees of humiliation. I've seen this lead to fights, or for those who refuse to follow the "tradition", be outcasted. They may call you names or give you an unflattering nickname. Yes, it's childish, but it's the nature of the game.
The atmosphere is like a constant mental and physical warfare. Players will tell you they are faster, stronger, and flat out better than you. Everybody is fighting for a starting spot and the jealousy and fear of not being "the guy" is a part of it all. Some guys try to crush your spirit, or as we would say, " take your heart" with words and play on the field.
It is not a sport for those weak in the mind. I've seen locker room fights--coaches go after coaches and coaches go after players--that's just the way it is. However, it's our family and we all end up as brothers in time. When I think about it, the whole thing is a bit psychotic.
My sophomore year, I ran a route over the middle during 7 on 7. The ball was overthrown but the safety came up and knocked the hell out of me during a non-contact period. I received a nice cut under my chin.
During the next play, I went in for payback. I ignored the play and went straight for the safety and laid his a out. He never saw me coming. Just to strengthen my point, I did it the next play and the coaches didn't say anything. They knew what it was all about. He and I are friends to this day, further proving my point is that things get handled differently in football than in the typical work world.
If you don't play the game as hard as possible, you will get hurt. Every time I caught a pass or ran the ball I felt like guys were trying to kill me. I expected nothing less.
The words of a coach never made me play harder or differently. When a coach said go kill the son of a b, nobody ever thought he meant it literally. It's football talk. Anybody who has played at a major college or in the NFL has heard it. If they say they haven't, they are flat out telling a lie.
Football is the all about proving yourself. Nobody is given anything and that's what makes the sport great. You earn your teammates' and coaches' respect by what you do on the field. I think most people would be appalled by what a lot of coaches and players say on a field or in a meeting, but it's just the atmosphere and it will never change.