RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And we are heading into Super Bowl weekend at the end of a season that has at times been pretty embarrassing for the NFL. There's been a lot of attention paid to player behavior off the field. And that came up when our colleague David Greene sat down with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells. Let's hear more of their conversation.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Parcells coached four different NFL teams in a career that spanned three decades. He dealt with his fair share of bad actors. Sometimes, he kicked them off his team; sometimes, he tolerated them. So when we sat down recently, I brought up former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was seen on TV punching his then fiancee. The Ravens released him. The NFL suspended him. But he's now eligible to play again. And I asked Parcells a simple question.
Could he play for you if you were coaching today?
BILL PARCELLS: Well, I'm pretty much a second-chance guy. I think if someone has demonstrated a true alteration of his behavior and true remorse for some of the things that happened, you could understand how you could kind of say, OK, let's see. I think unfortunately for Ray, it came at a time in his career when he was well down the road. I mean, running backs' longevity isn't that long usually anyway. And...
GREENE: You're saying if he were earlier in his career, he might have a better shot at coming back and...
PARCELLS: I think so.
GREENE: If you brought him onto your team and gave him a second chance, as you say, what would you say to the naysayers who are like, coach Parcells, this is a guy who the entire country watched beating up a woman? I mean, isn't that a distraction to your team? Isn't he a terrible role model to...
PARCELLS: I think...
GREENE: The world, to young people?
PARCELLS: I think he would have had to evaluate that. It was a very, very unfortunate incident. But they're young people, highly emotional, alcohol involved. Sometimes, stuff happens that you wish wouldn't happen. So I wouldn't say I could overlook it. But if all things appear to be in order - and they seem to be now, between the two of them - you know, you'd have to say, well, you know, maybe this guy deserves the right to try to make a living and make a better life for them - I mean, maybe.
GREENE: That maybe gets to an important point. From the outside, the NFL can look like a culture with no firm rules about behavior. Now, Parcells, as head coach of the New York Giants in the 1980s, was a pioneer in confronting off-the-field behavior, especially when it came to drug abuse. He was criticized for playing favorites, showing more patience with players who performed on the field. He denies that. Still, I wanted to understand what motivated coach Parcells when he had to decide whether a player using drugs could stay on the team or not.
How much of that was about your players' well-being, and how much of it was about winning?
PARCELLS: I'm glad you didn't ask me which came first. I knew that environment, if allowed to flourish, would eventually act as a deterrent to winning.
GREENE: But I hear you saying - when you said you didn't want me to ask you which came first...
PARCELLS: Well, because...
GREENE: That it might have been about the winning.
PARCELLS: No because in all honesty, I don't like to see some kid on drugs, OK? And if - especially if he's one of your players, you like to see it less. Now, are you worried about the kid? Yeah, there's a degree of worry about what's going to happen to him should he continue. But are you worried about your own situation as well? The answer's yes. Did I save some kids? Absolutely. Did we fail with some? Absolutely. Regardless how it turned out, I'm glad I made the effort.
GREENE: What do you tell someone who would hear this and say, coach, it should be about saving these kids as the number one priority. It shouldn't be about winning.
PARCELLS: Well, this isn't high school football we're playing here. You know, you're - that's what you're charged with doing when you become a professional coach. I would probably, deep down, agree with that person. If you're a human and you see these guys going the wrong way - I felt an obligatory responsibility to try to stop it.
GREENE: That's former NFL coach Bill Parcells. We spoke to him near his winter home in Jupiter, FL.
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