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Saints’ actions worse than Spygate

03.05.12 at 7:18 am ET

You can’t make this stuff up.

In a time of unprecedented sensitivity to player health — thanks in large part to increased knowledge of the terrible mental and physical fallout from concussions — and a commissioner seemingly very intent about doing everything in his power to at least slow down what has become an epidemic, we learned last Friday that the Saints were guilty of running a bounty system that payed players $1,500 for knocking an opposing player out of the game and $1,000 if he was carted off the field. And the payout was doubled or even tripled for postseason games.

Reckless and disgusting enough for you? And don’t give me the “every team does this” angle, either. I don’t doubt it has happened and is still happening in other cities, but to this extent? Wonder what Marc Savard or Dave Duerson‘s family would think about it. But it gets better — before the 2010 NFC title game, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to any player to knock Brett Favre out of the game. And guess who ran (and contributed money) to this bounty pool? Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. And when coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis found out about it, they did nothing to put a stop to it.

Because boys will be boys, right? This is war, got to do whatever it takes to win and all that dated macho baloney. This is 2012, not 1952. We know things that they didn’t. There’s a reason why people aren’t smoking on airplanes or in hospitals anymore. It’s called progress. And that’s why this is worse than Spygate. I have no clue (and neither do you or anyone else) when it comes to what kind of competitive advantage the Patriots received by videotaping (or how often they did or didn’t do it), but they violated NFL rules. They cheated, got busted and paid a very real price for it. I had no problem with the punishment from Goodell then and it seems about right 4½ years later.

But Spygate didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t attempt to knock players out of a game and possibility into a lifetime of postcareer hell (Ted Johnson as one of hundreds of examples). This is a physical game, of course. No one wants this to be the Pro Bowl for 16 games. And yes, every player knows what he’s walking into when he puts on a uniform. But shouldn’t the rules be enforced? A clean hit that knocks a player out is part of the game. I get that. But this is something else. What the Saints were doing borders on criminal. And they knew all of that and just didn’t care. Turns out that Williams, Payton and Loomis are three gutless morons who are about to cost the Saints (and themselves, actually) some serious money and draft picks.

Look, I’m not Roger Goodell‘s biggest fan. I thought he was wrong to suspend Ben Roethlisberger — no arrest was made, no charges were pressed — and he should have kept his mouth shut last year when he told Peter King that he felt “deceived” by Bill Belichick following Spygate. And, as is the case with almost every commissioner in history, there’s no doubt that he will take side with ownership over the player nearly every single time. But he’s done as good a job as can be expected with this tsunami of concussion knowledge over the last half-decade or so. Has it been perfect? Nope. But I get the impression that Goodell’s attempts to combat these injuries are authentic. At the very least he’s been extraordinarily outspoken on the issue of player safety and hasn’t been shy in suspending and fining players for hits that could lead to concussions.

And that’s what makes the actions of the Saints over the last three years either breathlessly arrogant or historically stupid. OK, probably both. Oh, and also this: The NFL warned the Saints in 2010 about the bounties, told them to knock it off or else, basically. And the Saints nodded and told the NFL they felt very bad about it indeed and would never do it again. Then they kept on doing it.

We can get into the cover up vs. crime and and which is worse and why do these guys always lie about this stuff, but on this I think we’ll all agree — the minute the Saints continued the policy after being told to stop is exactly when they dug the ol’ grave. Goodell now has no choice — none — but to slap the NFL’s version of the death penalty on these dopes.

Here’s what I’d do: Three first-round picks and suspensions for every single player that either kicked in or collected money. And Sean Payton — who for some reason is getting kind of a free pass nationally on this one; think the same would be true if we learned Matt Patricia ran a bounty system around here? — needs to be suspended and fined heavily as well. He at least enabled the entire circus, and it was his buddy, convicted felon Mike Ornstein, who kicked $10,000 into the pool (and bragged about it in e-mails to Payton). I’d suspend Payton half a season and Loomis (who, again, lied to ownership and the NFL) a full season.

As for Gregg Williams, I’d kick him out of the NFL. Goodbye. He has a history of running bounty pools in Washington and Buffalo — though, amazingly, no other coaches who worked with Williams seem to recall this happening — and when asked about it by the NFL during its New Orleans investigation reportedly denied any prior history of such activity.

He has to go. In the 2012 NFL, where we are told that player safety is paramount, there is no place for coach who pays players money to try to hurt other players and then lies about his already lengthy history of doing the same thing in other places. Let Williams spend the rest of his life in court trying to get his way back into the league.

If Roger Goodell is conservative in his punishment on this he’s a complete fraud. He’s fined players millions and millions of dollars for these hits over the last few years (and I’m OK with that) and has made his case as player safety enforcer thousands of times in the media. Well, he has a chance to end bounties forever. Set a precedent that guarantees there will be no chance for it to happen again. The Saints gave Goodell the middle finger for three years, just lied and ignored him as coaches handed out money for who knows how many concussion-inducing hits. Goodell needs to be brutal in his punishment or it’ll be awfully hard to take him seriously on this issue again.

Gregg Williams (who maybe should have spent more time worrying about stopping Matt Hasselbeck and Alex Smith in the playoffs the last two years) and the Saints played the tough guy act the last three years. They lied and lied and lied and lied some more, all while collecting money for trying to put players on a stretcher, and now Roger Goodell has to slap the Saints around. Only the toughest punishment in NFL history would be appropriate.

Read More: Gregg Williams, Mickey Loomis, roger goodell, sean payton



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