Saints Coach Is Suspended for a Year Over Bounties

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Courtesy of The New York Times:

The National Football League suspended New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton for a year without pay Wednesday for his role in the team’s bounty program, which promised money to players if they knocked opponents out of games. The unprecedented punishment was a stunning blow to one of the N.F.L.’s most successful teams, but also a strong message about how seriously the league took the threat to player safety.

The former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is now in the same role in St. Louis, was suspended indefinitely — but for no less than a year — for his role in the program. The league suspended Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season. The Saints have been fined $500,000 and will lose their second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. The assistant head coach, Joe Vitt, was also suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games of the 2012 season. The league said discipline for the players involved in the bounties was still under review with the players union and would be addressed at a later date.

The punishment handed out to the Saints significantly dwarfs that handed down by the league against the New England Patriots in 2007 for what became known as the Spygate scandal. There were no suspensions when the Patriots were found to have improperly videotaped opponents’ signals, but the Patriots lost a first-round draft pick; Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000; and the team was fined an additional $250,000.

In its statement, the N.F.L. said its investigation established the existence of an active bounty program involving the Saints during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. That violates league rules. But the investigation also showed that there was a deliberate effort to conceal the program’s existence from investigators. The league said that when Payton was interviewed this year about the bounties, he claimed to be entirely unaware of the program, which was contradicted by others interviewed. The investigation found that before the Saints’ season-opening game in 2011 against the Green Bay Packers, Payton received an e-mail message from a close associate — believed to be Mike Ornstein, a marketing agent who is also a convicted felon — that stated, in part, “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers.” When Payton was shown the e-mail during the investigation, Payton acknowledged that it was a bounty on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement. “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. 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 N.F.L. said that after releasing its initial findings on March 2, the league office continued to investigate, as reports emerged that similar bounty programs existed elsewhere.


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