So much for sportsmanship:
The New Orleans Saints’ defense had a bounty program that paid players to injure opponents and for making interceptions and fumble recoveries, the National Football League said Friday. The program involved as many as 27 defensive players, at least one assistant coach, and was active during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, said the league.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent,” he added.
Goodell has received the results of an NFL investigation into the Saints’ program and will decide on discipline, which could include fines, suspensions and forfeiture of draft choices, the NFL said. Saints owner Tom Benson released a statement acknowledging the probe and calling its results “troubling.” “I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans,” he said.
According to the NFL, Saints’ players regularly contributed cash to a pool, the total of which may have been as high as $50,000 or more at its peak. They were paid $1,500 for a “knockout,” when an opposing player was not able to return to the game, and $1,000 for a “cart-off,” when an opposing player had to be carried off the field. Players were also paid for interceptions and fumble recoveries. Payouts doubled and tripled during the playoffs, the league said. The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.
“There is no question that a bounty program violates long-standing league rules. Payments of this type — even for legitimate plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries — are forbidden because they are inconsistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and well-accepted rules relating to NFL player contracts,” the NFL said.
I suspect the NFL will come down harshly on the Saints for this – and they should. What is particularly galling is that the organization was aware of the bounty program and did nothing to stop it. It wouldn’t surprise me if other teams had similar pools and if this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It looks as if the Saints were not the only team in the NFL to have a bounty system in place:
The Washington Redskins had a bounty system for big hits on opponents under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that was similar to the one revealed by an NFL investigation of the New Orleans Saints, four players who played under Williams said Friday.
Three of the players described a coach who doled out thousands of dollars to Redskins defenders who measured up to Williams’s scoring system for rugged play, including “kill shots” that knocked opposing teams’stars out of a game. “You got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits,” said one former player, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Of the four players interviewed, only Philip Daniels, a former defensive lineman, was willing to be quoted on the record. He defended Williams’s coaching. Daniels now serves as the team’s director of player development. Players said compensation ranged from “hundreds to thousands of dollars,” with the biggest sum any player received believed to be about $8,000. “I never took it for anything [but] just incentive to make good, hard plays,” said a current player, who requested anonymity. “But I’m pretty sure it did entice some guys to do more to a player than normal when it came to taking them out. I mean, that’s cash. Let’s just be honest about it. “If you took the star player out, he’d hook you up a little bit.”
The Redskins declined to comment through team spokesman Tony Wyllie.
Daniels said he believed Williams began the program with money from fines collected from players for being late for meetings or practices. “Rather than pocket that money or whatever, he would re-distribute it to players who had good games or good practices.” He said the most he ever received was $1,500 for a four-sack game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2005.
“I think it is wrong the way they’re trying to paint [Williams],” Daniels added. “He never told us to go out there and break a guy’s neck or break a guy’s leg. It was all in the context of a good, hard football.” He acknowledged Williams’s system for awarding players’ cash featured more money for what Williams’ deemed “physical play.” “Sean Taylor made a lot,” he said of the hard-hitting safety who was killed in his Miami home in 2007.
The other three players interviewed portrayed Williams as a “coach who just took it a little too far,” in the words of one. “He actually had a saying, ‘If you cut the snake’s head off, the body will die,’ that was his motto,” said the player. “It was made clear that he was talking about not just running backs who turned their heads the opposite way and how they would go down, but also about other stars on offense that were the best players on that team.”
The NFL announced Friday that the Saints operated an improper bounty program that paid players as much as $1,500 for hits that injured opposing players. The program, administered by Williams, also a former defensive coordinator there, paid $1500 for a “knockout” hit and $1000 if an opponent was carted off the field between 2009 and 2011, the NFL said. Most of the money was contributed by players, but Williams also donated to the fund. In a statement, Williams apologized for what he called a “pay for performance” program while he was with the Saints. “It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it,” Williams said in the statement, which was published on nola.com. “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role.”
The NFL’s investigation found that between 22 and 27 players participated in the bounty program. Coach Sean Payton was not a direct participant but was “aware of the allegations” and “failed to stop the bounty program,” according to the league’s announcement. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine what disciplinary action to take, according to the league’s announcement. According to the NFL, the sanctions could include fines, suspension and the forfeiture of draft choices by the team.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Goodell said in a written statement released by the league. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. “It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.”
Williams, now defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment. Saints owner Tom Benson said in a written statement released by the team: “I have been made aware of the NFL’s findings relative to the “Bounty Rule” and how it relates to our club. I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans.” Saints players knocked Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of a playoff game and injured Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Brett Favre in another during their 2010 Super Bowl season.