Unfortunately for Saints head coach Sean Payton, he now is one of the faces of the NFL black-eye incident called “Bounty Gate”
Strangely as it may sound, one of the bigger stories leading into the 2012 NFL season is the discouragement of over-the-top “Aggression” in professional football. After months of speculation, the National Football League and their commissioner, Roger Goodell, laid the smackdown on the New Orleans Saints for an ugly chapter that people around the league have termed “Bounty-Gate”.In an unprecedented move, Goodell showed his teeth with a team’s front office and coaching staff, the same way he had done in the past with former NFL problem children Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Adam “Pacman” Jones. The NFL handed down the following punishments to the Saints for violations during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons of the league’s long-standing rules against injury “bounties”.
- Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season effective April 1st. The unprecedented suspension will cost Payton approximately $5.8 million dollars in pay.
- Saints GM Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first 8 games of the 2012 NFL Season without pay
- Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended without pay for the first six games of the 2012 regular season
- Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who now is the St. Louis Rams DC, got the “Vick” treatment as he was suspended indefinitely for his role as the alleged administrator of the payment for “injury” program.
- The Saints organization as a whole were also fined $500,000 and they were also stripped their 2nd round picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL Drafts.
- Lastly, the NFL did not identify and/or announce any disciplinary actions for any individual players involved in Bounty-Gate, but you can bet your booty that the league will be dealing with them very soon separately. Right now Goodell and his staff are probably getting the list of players together and will probably act before 2012 training camps open.
It is being reported that Payton and the rest of his crew were first warned and then lied about the existence of any type of bounty program to their owner, Tom Benson, and the NFL. As many of you know, I have always said that in professional football, there is no good way to take the “violence” away from the game. Constantly I have cringed when I have heard that players like, Steelers LB James Harrison, were given suspension and/or fines for hits that were “legal” when I first began watching the game. A typical refrain from myself and several other Old-School fans has been, “The NFL should now put flags on players”. But even a former fan of the Buddy Ryan’s “Bounty Bowl” Philadelphia Eagles destructive defense in the late ‘80s has to agree with the NFL for taking the Saints to task on their bounty system.
When you talk to former and current players — both offensive and defensive — there is a general understanding that between-the-lines professional football is a tough collision sport where you can be injured at any moment. It is part of the “brotherhood” of the game that injuries will happen and trying to knockout the opposing team’s top players, particularly their “Pretty Boy” quarterbacks, out the game and getting an “At a Boy” are all part of what they signed up for going back to when they first put on pads and a helmet.
However there is no doubt that the Saints and their administration went over the line to thumb their nose at the establishment by not only fostering and lying about the existence of a “Bounty” system. But most importantly having the whole darn thing documented with accounts and payments to player for specific games/acts. In the new NFL where player safety has caused rules determing the way players can even be tackled and the existence of civil suits by former players related to injuries related the violence of game (concussions) aplenty, the league had to show everyone that they meant business.
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” Goodell said when announcing his punishments for Bounty-Gate. He added, “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.”
In true-tale fashion Goodell spelled it all out by saying, “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 unprecedented disciplinary action by the NFL will cost Payton, Loomis, and the rest of the coaches some serious coin. But more importantly much like, the indelible stain from the Patriots “Spygate” a few years ago, the Saints will forever have this mess on their permanent league record. Sure wanting to knockout (injure) an opposing player is one thing, but to have a maintained a system of malicious play for several seasons is deplorable and will probably tarnish the New Orleans Saints 2009 Super Bowl Championship way into the future.
For a long time bounties were an unspoken private meeting and lockerroom thing around the NFL that just weren’t talked about but now everyone knows. And now NFL Universe also knows how Goodell and the league will crack down on anyone who doesn’t fall into line when players are intentionally being targeted to be injured.
The Saints will now move-on toward the 2012 season without their head coach as assistants Pete Charmichael (offensive coordinator) and Steve Spagnuolo (defensive coordinator) step-in for Payton, but there will not be any getting away from this topic for the team or the league. And you can almost certainly expect there to be a major discussion point at the upcoming league meetings.
However you gotta wonder the next time a star player, particularly a quarterback, is charted off the field, how quickly the “B-Word” will creep back into the lingo of the NFL.
Lloyd Vance is the Editor for Taking It to the House , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Lloyd can be reached on Twitter @lloydvance_nfl or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org