‘Bountygate’ reveals Saints were sinners

On Friday, March 2, the NFL announced it had determined, via a lengthy investigation, that 22 to 27 defensive players on the New Orleans Saints, and at least one assistant coach, maintained a “bounty” program, in violation of NFL rules during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

The league’s investigation determined that Gregg Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator during that time, administered the “pay for performance” program with the knowledge of the other defensive coaches. Players were given cash for big plays, such as interceptions and fumble recoveries, as well as “bounty” payments, which were $1,000 for a “cart-off” (meaning an opposing player was assisted off the field by the medical staff) and $1,500 for a “knockout” (knocking an opposing player out of the game). Payments would sometimes double or even triple during the playoffs.

The NFL’s rule against “non-contract bonuses” clearly states: “No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team’s performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players).”

While Williams is under the harshest light for his administration of the program, Saints head coach Sean Payton was well aware of the program, and although he did not contribute to nor administer the program, Payton failed to ensure that the program was discontinued. Williams may also be dragging a few former employers into the mud with him, as his “pay for performance” program may have also been part of his tenure as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins and as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Former Redskins’ head coach Joe Gibbs has publicly stated he was “shocked by this,” and that he “wouldn’t ever tell a player to hurt somebody.”

Brett Favre faced the Saints in the 2007 NFC championship, and was subsequently targeted by the Saints. During that game, after an unflagged high-low hit on Favre, one unnamed defensive player can be overheard saying, “Pay me my money” on an on-field microphone. It was revealed a few days ago, by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, that then-Vikings coach Brad Childress sent a video of eight of the Saints hits on Favre to the league’s offices, and Vikings officials accused the Saints of having a bounty on Favre.

Williams, who’s now the defensive coordinator for the Saint Louis Rams, will meet with the league office to determine the punishment for his role in this program. The league has stated: “The discipline could include fines and suspensions and, in light of the competitive nature of the violation, forfeiture of draft choices.”

This is quite the legal quagmire for the NFL, which is currently being sued by a 21-player contingency alleging that it did not do enough to protect former players from head injuries and concussions.

Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to strike the right balance between player safety and the legal, on-field violence the league implicitly allows, or else he could be viewed as someone who talks out of both sides of his mouth, arguing vehemently for player safety while not doing enough to actually protect the players once they step on the playing field.

As more and more is learned about the depth of this “bounty” program, expect the Saints, Sean Payton, Gregg Williams and all of the players involved to be punished and fined heavily.

In order to protect the league’s integrity, not to mention its most valuable asset, the players, Goodell has to drop the hammer. Hard.

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