After muffing one punt and fumbling a second in an overtime loss last weekend, San Francisco's Kyle Williams was subjected to an all-too-predictable barrage of Twitter hate and several death threats. Compared to that, what two members of the winning New York Giants recklessly boasted about after the game sounded almost tame.
"The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him out of the game," said Jacquian Williams, who forced the second fumble, in overtime, to set up New York's game-winning field goal.
"He's had a lot of concussions," said Devin Thomas, who recovered both fumbles. "We were just like, 'We gotta put a hit on that guy.'" Later in the same interview, he told the Newark Star-Ledger that teammate and backup safety Tyler Sash "did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up."
That the Giants targeted a vulnerable opponent like Kyle Williams hardly qualifies as news, nor even that they zeroed in on his head. Those tactics, despite all the attention advancing science has focused on the dangers of concussions, were part of football long before helmets became mandatory. More troubling, but hardly news, either, is the implication that it was part of the Giants' game plan, something that was discussed in the film room or a special-teams meeting among the players, with or without input of the blessing of the coaching staff. It wouldn't be the first time that happened, either.
No, the surprising thing is that Thomas and Jacquian Williams came right out and said it.
The few Giants who were available at the team's practice facility Tuesday did their best to walk those statements back.
"In our meetings, we do not talk about it. Concussions are a big deal and we don't talk about it at all. We are a fraternity of brothers across the league," linebacker Michael Boley said. "You don't think about someone's past injuries or what was wrong with them. Obviously if something is wrong with them, they would not be on the field."
"I never had that conversation," said defensive end Justin Tuck. "Obviously we consider ourselves to be a physical group that wants to hit everyone. I don't think we've ever talked about knocking someone out, concussion-wise. We want to hit everybody hard, but we stay away from that."
Kyle Williams, a second-year pro who inherited the punt-return job because front-liner Ted Ginn Jr. was injured, was informed of the Giants' post-game remarks. He accepted full responsibility for his miscues afterward, but said through agent Ken Sarnoff that he is done speaking publicly and ready to move forward toward the 2012 season. The 49ers had no comment Tuesday and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league considers the matter closed.
"Players are held accountable for their actions on the field," he said in an email. "There were no illegal hits to the head or neck area against Kyle Williams on Sunday. There was no conduct by the Giants of any kind that would suggest an effort to injure Kyle Williams in any way."
What's certain is that it's no longer possible to look at concussions, intentional or not, the way we did just a few seasons ago. The NFL gospel that bigger and faster are better can be proven any given Sunday. What's changed is how many Sundays that guarantee is good for. It was easy enough to write off career-ending hits to the knees and worse as occupational hazards, because even players forced out of the game left with the prospect of more good days ahead than bad. Concussions have changed the equation in the most insidious way, upping the ante without disclosing the real cost until it's too late. And the money in pro football is so good now that few players even bother to tote up the risk.
"If I have a concussion these days, I'm going to say something happened to my toe or knee just to get my bearings for a few plays," Bears' tough-guy linebacker Brian Urlacher told HBO during a taping of "Real Sports."
"I'm not going to sit in there and say I got a concussion. I can't go in there the rest of the game."
Kyle Williams missed the 49ers last regular-season game because of a concussion. Given his history, he was no doubt informed along the way of the dangers posed by just one concussion, let alone the compounding effect of each one after that. The Giants knew that, too, and apparently went after him anyway. Unsettling as that seems, it's a little late in the game for anyone to feign surprise.