NFL suspends Saints coach, ex-coordinator over bounty program
Saints head coach Sean Payton's one-year suspension begins April 1 as a result of his team's bounty program.
March 21st, 2012
02:01 PM ET

NFL suspends Saints coach, ex-coordinator over bounty program

[Updated at 2:01 p.m. ET] The NFL is suspending former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely and Saints head coach Sean Payton for one year because of the team's bounty program, the league said Wednesday.

The Saints also will be fined $500,000 and will forfeit their second-round selections in the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts, the league said.

In addition, the league is suspending Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season, and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six regular-season games, the NFL said in a statement.

“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement. “When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”

The NFL reported this year that the Saints paid defensive players a bounty for injuring opponents as well as making interceptions and fumble recoveries during the 2009-2011 seasons. The program involved as many as 27 players and at least one assistant coach, the league concluded following an investigation.

The league said the program was administered by then-defensive coordinator Williams - who now holds the same position with the St. Louis Rams - with the knowledge of other coaches. Players regularly contributed cash to a pool, which may have topped $50,000 at its peak.

The players 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. In some cases, particular players on the opposing team were targeted, the NFL said.

After the program was reported on, Payton and Loomis said they took "full responsibility" for the practice, which they said "happened under our watch."

"These are serious violations, and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Loomis and Payton said in a statement this year.

Also Wednesday, Goodell sent a memo to all teams instructing them to certify that they have no bounty program. Each principal owner and head coach must make the certification in writing to the commissioner by March 30, the NFL said.

“Bounty programs have no place in our game,” Goodell said. “They are incompatible with our efforts to promote sportsmanship, fair play and player safety.”

Goodell will review Williams’ status after the 2012 season, and will pay "close attention to the extent to which Coach Williams cooperates with the NFL in any further proceedings," the NFL said.

Williams' suspension is immediate, while Payton's begins April 1.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees wrote a letter to fans following the investigation's conclusion, saying he was never aware of the infamous bounty program in which his team admitted to taking part.

"I do feel a responsibility to my teammates, the Saints organization and to the fans, to address the "bounty" allegations," Brees wrote in a letter posted Friday on his foundation's website. "There is no place in the National Football League, or any sport played at any level, for players to conspire, to be coerced, or to be incentivized to intentionally injure another player. I did not participate in any bounty program, nor did I have any knowledge relating to its real existence."

Many former players say "bounty" incentive programs have existed in professional football for a long time. Players, who question why this scandal is shocking so many fans, say football is a violent sport built around punishing opponents.

LaVar Arrington, a former Washington Redskins linebacker who writes the Hard Hits blog for The Washington Post, wrote after the investigation that the best players in the history of football have always brought a "seek and destroy mentality" to the game.

"So in a culture where it's an unwritten part of the game to get the best opposing player out of it, that's what players have done and still do to this day. The fact that there's such outrage appears to be a bit strange to me," Arrington wrote on his blog.

The NFL said the bounty program was a clear violation of rules intended to protect "player safety and competitive integrity."

soundoff (302 Responses)
  1. Ican Heare

    Forget the NFL, I think States should bring charges against citizens that actively coordinated intentional and financially contracted assaults against other citizens. And then those players that were individually named and targeted should bring civil lawsuits against all involved and the NFL for their lack to do anything beyond a few fines and suspensions. Everyone knows that players agree to play under the possibility of being accidentally injured but I doubt any have agreed to play in games under the covert threat of contracted assaults. How's that for an explanation for Mr. Brees... geez if he doesn't understand the seriousness of these actions maybe he should be investigated too. Maybe his moral compass is just as broken!

    March 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • NeroTag

      I agree. For everyone who is comparing this incident to how players in the league may lay an extra hard hit on a player returning from injury, are simply fools. This is what it is, assault. Pre-mediated assault that an indivudal was payed for. The person who laid the hit and the person who paid for it to take place would be under arrest and in jail if this incident happened outside the confines of the NFL. This is criminal action, not sport.

      March 27, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tonya

    For those who are confused it is a year without pay for Payton. The bounty part may be against the rules, but as it has already been pointed out, although not enough in my opinion, the hits were legal....that is what refs are for. I really think it boils down to others making a big deal to get rid of a team they are threatened by. Yes, we should be punished for the betting but that is it. Nobody plays football thinking they will leave every game without serious bumps and bruises, and we all pray that is the extent they will leave with. We won the Superbowl....we got there on the athleticism of the team, the leadership of the team, and the calls of the refs in the leauge. We are Saints fans...WE will survive....and we will be back!!!!

    March 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ican Heare

    Well for those that are super-confused, hits being "legal" according to the NFL is not the same legality as that enforced by States such as contracted assaults being illegal anywhere, even a football arena. It's not about what kind of a hit was caused (as categorized by the ref), it's about the difference between routine physical contact that occurs naturally from the progression of a football game and purposeful, premeditated, and contracted assaults against another person. You have to ask the question to yourself, "would I be breaking the law if I were to willingly and knowingly engage in purposeful, premeditated, and contracted assaults against another person?" If your answer is no then you don't know the law correctly. If you answer is yes then you have to accept that criminal (not just NFL) laws were broken. You can't have it both ways.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lee

    Really disgraceful.....the object of football was, is, and should always be to use skill to outscore your opponent....period ! Not some warped gladiatorial notion of seriously injuring opposing players, for cash bonuses !! The punishments metted out to the Saints coach and staff are a bit limp wristed in my opinion.. At a time when national concern is focused on the residual and longterm effects of traumatic sports injuries, this injure-for-money mentality is just criminal, and should be handled that way. I guess that all the aberations that big money has brought to professional football has made the concepts of good sportsmanship and clean play passe.

    March 25, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
  5. chris smith

    Goodell is trying hard NOT to compete with the NHL. The NFL used to be recognized as a "class act" and now it looks like a "bunch of punks" have taken over. There are more fights on the field than ever before & now the Bounty system to intentionally injury a co-athlete who could be a co-player in another trade ! A "real" player would have stood up and rejected being part of the Bounty program.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. The Janissaire

    A one year suspension? Give me a break (ha no pun intended) these people and those who were participants should be banned for life. They are saying go out there and end someone's career – their chance of making a good living – the ability to look after their families. The player who partake in such things – if it can be proven – should also be banned for life. You ended someone else's carerr and have potentially given them a life in hell of long term pain? We we're going to give you some pain too – you're banned for life in the NFL and your contract is suspeneded. Now go away little boy and take your lumps like a man!

    March 26, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      I agree, it's not a severe enough penalty

      March 27, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
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