The New Orleans Saints' defense had a bounty program that paid players for injuring 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. In some cases,
particular players on the opposing team were targeted, the NFL said.
The program was administered by then-defensive coordinator Gregg
Williams, with knowledge of other coaches, said the league. Head coach
Sean Payton did not directly participate, nor was he involved in the
administration of the program, however, he knew about the allegations
and failed to stop it, the NFL said.
Williams, who is now defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams,
released a statement on the allegations, the New Orleans Times-Picayune
"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were
doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I
take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a
hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow
this kind of activity to happen again," the newspaper quoted him saying.
SI: Saints look at severe penalties for bounty system
Saints players were also allegedly paid for interceptions and fumble
recoveries. Payouts doubled and tripled during the playoffs, the NFL
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," said the league.
It informed the NFL Players Association about the Saints'
investigation earlier Friday. The NFLPA said it would review the
information and stressed that health and safety issues are "paramount."
The NFL has been under fire of late as hundreds of former players and
their families are currently suing the league for alleged negligence,
claiming that it didn't do enough to mitigate the risks despite what
many say is an inherently dangerous sport.
An attorney for former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Kevin Turner,
Stephen F. Rosenthal -- whose Miami-based firm represents 137 other
players and their families who've filed a class-action suit against the
league -- said Turner has likely suffered from undiagnosed concussions.
He accused the league of deliberately withholding information deemed
critical to player safety.
Stars such as former quarterback Jim McMahon, as well as running
backs Jamal Lewis and Dorsey Levens, have filed similar lawsuits in
states across the country.
Attorneys representing Lewis and Levens accuse the league of having
used a "hand-picked committee of physicians" to misrepresent evidence of
the effects of head trauma, particularly concussions.
The league denies the claims and released a statement saying it "has
long made player safety a priority and continues to take steps to
protect players and to advance the science and medical understanding of
the management and treatment of concussions."
"The NFL has never misled players with respect to the risks
associated with playing football," the statement added. "Any suggestion
to the contrary has no merit."
The league has in recent years also made strides to strengthen rules
that govern on-the-field conduct, while adding sideline medical staff --
unaffiliated with the teams -- to more independently evaluate injured
In 2005, the league banned the practice of tackling a player by using
his shoulder pads, a move commonly referred to as a "horse-collar"
tackle, after concluding it commonly resulted in injury.
It also strengthened a 1979 rule prohibiting players from using their
helmets to butt, or "spear" players during a tackle -- a rule that
critics often complained had lacked enforcement.