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New Orleans Saints Slammed in Bounty Scandal

The New Orleans Saints received heavy penalties from the National Football League in punishment for years of rewarding players for injuring opponents.

ESPN (“NFL hammers Saints for bounties“):

The NFL came down hard on the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday.

Saints coach Sean Payton has been suspended for one year, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight regular-season games, the team was fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks (one in 2012 and ’13) as a result of a bounty program conducted by the team during the 2009-11 seasons.

Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt also was suspended six games and fined $100,000. The NFL said in its statement that the suspensions for Payton, Loomis and Vitt are without pay.

Payton’s suspension is effective April 1. Commissioner Roger Goodell will meet with Williams after the 2012 season and determine the coach’s status.

“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” Goodell said in a statement announcing the punishments. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised. “A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” Goodell said. “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.”

Contrast this with the penalties handed down for the Spygate controversy:

Goodell fined the New England Patriots $250,000 and their coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 for the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the team was caught illegally videotaping the Jets’ sideline. New England also was stripped of a first-round draft pick.

That Williams, a serial offender and the ringleader here, got an indefinite suspension is the right move here. Most were predicting a year but the actions were flagrant and over the course of many years and many teams.

Most thought Payton would just get four games, so missing an entire season is brutal. Then again, four games is what the League assesses against players for violating the drug policy. A full season sends a very strong message, indeed.

By contrast, a measly two second round picks strikes me as light. My guess is that Goodell would have confiscated their 1st rounder if they hadn’t already traded it away (ironically enough, to the Patriots). Still, a 2nd this year and next year’s 1st would have been a stronger message.

Similarly, a $500,000 fine for the team is rather light. To be sure, the available evidence is that the owner knew nothing about the bounties and ordered them stopped once he found out. But the same was true in Spygate and the team got $250,000. Considering individual players get fines of $25,000 or $50,000 for an illegal hit–often one rendered illegal only by the vagaries of the opponent changing body positions before impact–it sends a weak signal charging so little to a billionaire owner.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Overall, I think the penalties seem appropriate. Football is my favorite spectator sport. And it will always be rough, although I do hope they make more progress on reducing head injuries.

    It just doesn’t help to have people actively intending to make injuries worse than they are. Knock the ball loose? Great. Wear down your opponent with physical play? Sure. But give him a concussion so you don’t have to play against your best competitor? Lame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Herb says:

    The fine is small, but with parity a concern I would expect it to be. The year suspension for Payton I think is a much bigger deal. That’s going to put a crimp in the Saints organization this year, obviously, but the ramifications could extend for the next couple of years, too. He’s going to have a lot of catching up to do.

    Don’t think anyone’s going to be implementing a bounty program in the future, though, so that’s good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. David M says:

    I think the reason the owner / team probably weren’t punished more is that all the other suspensions affect them as well. The coach / gm suspensions probably are more punitive to the owner than any realistic monetary penalty would be. If the owner is a billionaire, you could make the fine 10 or 20 times larger and it would still probably be preferable to the coaching suspensions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Since the GM’s role during the season is limited (most of his work is done during the off-season or in training camp to determine who is on the field during the season, and he has no real role on gamedays), what does suspending the GM for 8 regular season games mean? Can the team not sign someone to replace injured players? Or can the team do that, but the GM cannot be involved in the discussions?

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  5. EMRVentures says:

    I think they sent a sufficient message. Between the two draft picks, the loss of their coach, and the fact that Brees is on a one-year franchise contract, this could be really damaging to the Saints. I’m sure the NFL’s objective is not to wreck a franchise, and New Orleans is already in a perilous position.

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  6. Anderson says:

    Brees hasn’t finalized his contract negotiations, has he? In theory at least, he could declare he’s sick of it and go elsewhere?

    That would make Peytonmania look like bingo night at the old folks’ home by comparison.

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  7. Rick Almeida says:

    I just listened to about 2 hours of Sirius NFL radio, and the vehemence with which hosts & fans oppose this decision surprised the heck out of me.

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  8. A couple informational points:

    IIRC, the maximum fine a franchise can face from the commissioner is 500K.

    Brees was tendered as an exclusive rights franchise player which means in exchange for a one year guaranteed contract he will be paid the average of the Top-5 QBs cap hit as of the week before the draft (so probably 17 to 19 million next year). Since he is an exclusive rights franchise player instead of the right of first refusal franchise player, he is not allowed to negoatiate with other teams. He has three options:

    1) Sign the tender and attend training camp
    2) Hold out of training camp and part of the regular season and then sign the tender and get a pro-rated portion of his salary.
    3) Hold out the entire year and enter contract negotiations again next winter.

    My guess is the GM suspension is an indirect way to fine the GM over and above the agreed upon fine limits.

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  9. I was a bit surprised by the penalties, but can’t argue with them. If the goal was to send a message to dissuade the behavior in question, then this should do it.

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  10. Jib says:

    @Moosebreath: Well, for one thing, there is still this years draft.

    Once the draft happens, you need to sign a bunch of people, draftees and rookie free agents.

    There are still the lesser known free agent signings plus negotiations with your current players. The big guys like Brees will be taken care of but there are a lot of other people too.

    Injury rates being what they are, NFL teams add and cut people all through the season.

    There are a ton of moves that have to be made between now and opening day. I would guess most of the work of a GM is yet to happen. Losing both your head coach and GM for the next 6 months plus will make for a crazy work load in NOLA for the people left behind.

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  11. Jib says:

    @Moosebreath: I am assuming the GM is suspended effective April 1 too. If not, then you may be right, it is not that big of a deal. But the first half of the season is still pretty busy.

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  12. Racehorse says:

    While we are on this subject of violence in sports, let’s talk about things over in the NHL: players bashing on each other like it is the UFC or WWE. What do these players involved get for their trouble? A 5 minute water break! Who is this NHL commissioner that is not doing anything about this? He needs to clean it up or shut it down! I have read about and seen numerous player concussions and other injuries from this mayhem on the ice. Many of these injuries appear deliberate – hitting with sticks and from behind. I don’t see this in Olympic or college hockey, yet those games are well attended and watched, so don’t give me that junk that people won’t go to the games if there is no violence. Refs could still allow checking and hard blocks. What example does this set for children and young people, Mr. Commissioner? Do we see this in other professional sports? NBA, MLB, PGA, NASCAR, PBA, and tennis do not allow al of this fighting, yet they have great followings. The coaches should be held responsible also. Here would be my penalties: 1st time: warning. 2nd. time: 1 game suspension. 3rd. time: 30 game suspension. 4th. time: suspended for 1 full season. 5th. time: out for good – go play in Europe. Come on, Mr. Commissioner: clean it up or clean out!
    “You can’t score from the penalty box. No player’s stick is that long. ” Bobby Hull

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. CB says:

    @Racehorse:

    oh come on. fighting in hockey is no more dangerous than virtually any given play in any given football game, and i would bet that it leaves no worse an impression on kids than the megalomaniac behavior of so many of the athletes in each of the leagues you just listed.

    ill grant you that the enormous staged fights (see: the start of a recent devils/rangers tilt) are pointless and should be scrubbed from the game, but within the proper context, fighting in hockey serves a long revered and legitimate purpose.

    but who watches hockey anyway, right?

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  14. Racehorse says:

    @CB: Who watches hockey – agree on that. We can’t even pick up games on tv around here anymore.

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  15. CB says:

    @Racehorse:

    center ice package FTW! best investment i ever made.

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  16. Franklin says:

    Actually there’s some sort of NBC-affiliated cable channel around here (SE Michigan) that seems to show a ton of hockey).

    @CB:

    ill grant you that the enormous staged fights …

    Define ‘staged’. This ain’t wrestling, that was real blood. Now whether we could do without that particular melee, I’d agree. Fights are for a specific purpose – as retaliation, and therefore deterrence, against overzealous dangerous hits on the important skill players. It *is* curious that hockey has traditionally had a more straightforward way of reducing intentional injuries that we are talking about in football today.

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  17. CB says:

    i mean staged as in lining up your enforcers at the opening faceoff and essentially sparking a donnybrook. i understand it sets the tone for a huge rivalry game, but i really could just do without it. not because i am against fighting (at all), i just want prefer to focus on the hockey.

    for the record, im a huge devils fan, and i still thought it was kind of a bush league move by both deboer and tortorella. but its irrelevant, i dont want to hijack the thread.

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  18. CB says:

    oh, and as for the lack of intentional injuries, i definitely agree. you can thank ‘the code’ for that.

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  19. Franklin says:

    @CB: given that definition, yes I agree.

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  20. Dave Schuler says:

    There are a couple of things about this story that puzzle me:

    1. How is assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm not a crime? (I.e. a hit without intent is part of the game; intentionally trying to injure somebody is something else again)

    2. How is encouraging i.e. paying someone to assault somebody with an intent to inflict grievous bodily harm not a crime?

    Although the NFL may be trying to do damage control, I see hundreds of civil suits coming out of this and maybe criminal charges.

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