Niners safety Donte Whitner is a tough football player, known for his crushing tackles. He’s hardly one to back off from contact – physical or otherwise.
So on Thursday, Whitner quickly expressed his outrage about the audio tape released to the public that captured Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams urging his players to injure San Francisco players before their playoff game last season.
“If those things are true, I think it’s really disgusting and something should be done about it to a higher extreme than what is (already set),” Whitner told SiriusXM NFL Radio, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “You’re out there intending to hurt guys. This is their careers and how they take care of families.”
Whitner delivered probably the most devastating hit in that playoff game, a 36-32 49ers victory, when he stopped New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas cold near the goal line on a hit that knocked Thomas out of the game.
But the shot was a clean one, and it wasn’t part of any organized system of bounties doled out for injuring opponents, as the Saints are alleged to have.
“I didn’t go out intentionally to hurt him,” Whitner said in his radio interview.
Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who didn’t play in that postseason game against the Saints, told Cam Inman that “You never want to hear anybody talk about your teammates like that, especially people you’re very close to.”
Former 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci told the NFL Network he almost drove off the road when he heard the words of Williams on the radio, reported the Sacramento Bee.
“I was shocked,” Mariucci said.
Former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp, also known for his physical play, told the Bay Area News Group, “This is the most heinous, egregious thing in the history of the game.”
Sapp, now an NFL TV commentator, added, “Not for one second would I sit in a room and listen to someone say, ‘We’re going to take out someone’s ACL’ without standing up and saying, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ The way you play defense isn’t about malice. It’s about putting you in fourth-and-more than you can handle.”
Former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said he “almost threw up” when he heard Williams’ speech.
“Since you were a baby you’ve understood never take out a man’s knees and on this tape he’s talking about taking out an ACL.”
Williams has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season without pay for what the NFL uncovered in its investigation of “Bountygate.”
Not everyone associated with the 49ers reacted the way Whitner and Kaepernick, however.
Tight end Delanie Walker told Inman, “It’s funny to me, to talk like that about players. It’s nothing we can’t let the NFL handle. The coach is trying to pump players up.”
And former 49ers standout offensive lineman Randy Cross, long an NFL TV analyst, made fun of the media maelstrom that erupted when the tapes of Williams were released by Yahoo Sports.
“NFL Media Nanny State up in arms about FB coach espousing violent behavior. U people r clueless about the game,” Cross wrote on Twitter.
Bay Area News Group columnist Monte Poole says the NFL now has a huge problem on its hands and will need to address it.
Violence, of course, is one of the aspects of the game that has made the NFL the most popular sports league in the nation. Fans love big hits. But now, says Poole, with the release of the audio tape, we’ve all been exposed to “the brutal underside of America’s abiding sports passion.”
“A recording is twice better than a smoking gun,” wrote Poole, “because it makes witnesses of us all, and in perpetuity.”