NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A recording of then-New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams urging players to deliver punishing hits on specific San Francisco players was released without approval from retired special teams standout Steve Gleason, who had helped a documentary filmmaker gain behind-the-scenes access to the Saints.
"I feel deflated and disappointed. I feel frustrated and distracted," Gleason said in a statement on his website.
Gleason has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and has allowed filmmaker Sean Pamphilon to capture his struggle with the incurable disease. He played for the Saints from 2000 to 2007 and maintains a strong relationship with the club, which has backed his efforts to improve the lives of those living with the debilitating symptoms of ALS.
Gleason's connections to the team and to Pamphilon allowed the documentarian to be in the room with the Saints defense ahead of New Orleans' 36-32 playoff loss to San Francisco in January.
"The Saints have been incredibly open and supportive of me and my family during my disease progression," Gleason wrote. "From my perspective, the Saints have helped begin to shift the paradigm of how an NFL team should treat its players after retirement."
"I included Sean Pamphilon in some of these activities, because I felt my relationship with the Saints was an integral part of my overall journey," Gleason said in the statement posted Friday. "The Saints trusted me and gave us unlimited access in filming, and I, in turn, trusted Sean Pamphilon."
Gleason said there was an agreement that he and his family would own the rights to any recordings made of his interaction with the Saints and that "nothing can be released without my explicit approval."
"I did not authorize the public release of any recordings," Gleason continued.
Williams is suspended indefinitely for his admitted role overseeing a bounty system that rewarded Saints defenders with cash for painful hits during his tenure with the team from 2009 to 2011. The assistant coach left New Orleans after the playoff loss and was hired as defensive coordinator by the St. Louis Rams.
The recording, which Pamphilon posted on one of his promotional websites, purports to capture Williams telling players to "put a lick" on 49ers receiver Kyle Williams to see if he had lingering effects from a concussion.
Williams also tells his players to "beat (running back) Frank Gore's head," and "lay out" quarterback Alex Smith. He also reminds his players that receiver Michael Crabtree "becomes human when we ... take out that outside ACL," a reference to the anterior cruciate ligament in the receiver's knee.
Pamphilon did not respond to messages left by The Associated Press. He said in an email to The Times-Picayune that while some may accuse him of orchestrating a publicity grab, he felt compelled to release the audio because he believes deeply that "parents of children playing football MUST pay attention to the influence of men who will sacrifice their kids for W's."
The NFL's bounty probe has led to unprecedented punishment for the Saints, including the suspension of coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell also handed down suspensions of eight games for general manager Mickey Loomis and six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt. The team was fined $500,000 and docked second-round draft picks this year and next.
The Saints met with Goodell in New York to appeal all of those sanctions on Thursday, and the commissioner is expected to either affirm or modify his initial ruling in the coming days.
The NFL's report on the bounty program also found between 22 and 27 Saints defenders participated, but a couple of those who played in New Orleans during the period in question told the AP they take issue with how the system has been portrayed.
The players spoke on condition of anonymity because the NFL has not decided how to punish players connected to the improper bonus program.
"I don't feel like anything was ever literal," one of the players said, referring to the way coaches like Williams and teammates spoke of brutalizing opponents.
"There's a pretty good sense of fraternity around the league, and players generally understand and respect the bounds of the game. But it takes a lot of passion to play football, and the tough talk was more about getting players in the right mind-frame to go out and do their job."
The players also said it's common around the league to participate in incentive pools and to discuss testing an opposing player's threshold for pain, particularly when he has a known injury.
"When it was spoken about — and it was spoken about on every team — it's more along the lines of: 'Tom Brady has sore ribs, so let's test him out. Let's test out his ribs,'" the second player said.
"You're just trying to win the game," the player continued. "It's a business and we want to attack our competing business' weakness."