New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis apologized for a bounty program in which the National Football League team’s players received money for injuring opponents.
“We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch,” the two men said yesterday in a statement released by the team. “We take full responsibility.”
The NFL said last week that about two dozen Saints players, led by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, paid each other as much as $1,500 for injuring opponents.
Williams, 53, occasionally contributed to the funds himself, the league said. Players were paid $1,500 for a “knockout” in which an opposing player was unable to return to the game, and $1,000 for a “cart-off” in which opponents were carried off the field. Payments doubled or tripled during the playoffs.
Such a pool violates an NFL rule prohibiting non-contract bonuses. Players can’t receive added pay for performance against particular teams or opponents, or on-field misconduct such as injuring opponents or personal fouls.
“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong when we were doing it,” Williams, who now is defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, said last week in an e-mailed statement. “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment yesterday on the statement from Payton and Loomis. A day earlier, he declined to comment on any timeline for punishment of the Saints or Williams.
The NFL has increasingly handed out fines and suspensions for illegal hits over the past three seasons. Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison was suspended for one game last year for his fifth illegal hit on a quarterback over that span. That effort comes as the NFL is being sued by former players who say it ignored the dangers posed by head injuries.
Payton knew about the pool, even though he wasn’t a direct participant in funding or administering it, the NFL said. He “did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program.”
When Saints owner Tom Benson learned of the program from investigators, who began looking into the matter in early 2010 after allegations the Saints had targeted Pro Bowl quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, Benson told Loomis to end it immediately, the NFL said. There’s no evidence Loomis made any effort to do that.
Loomis and Payton apologized for causing “undue hardship” to Benson, “who had nothing to do with this activity,” they said in the statement.
“These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game,” Loomis and Payton said. “Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to all of our fans.”
Present and former players and coaches have said since the NFL announcement that bounties are a part of life in the league, including four former Redskins, who told the Washington Post that team had a similar program when Williams worked as defensive coordinator there between 2004 and 2007.
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