An investigation into the New Orleans Saints 2009-2011 seasons has tarnished the reputation of one of the most improbable football comeback stories over the past several years, culminating in the Saints Super Bowl victory in 2010.
The fallout stems from revelations about a program whereby some New Orleans Saints football players, in an informal pool orchestrated by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, provided money to reward players who took “out” key opposing players during NFL games. As much as $50,000 is said to have been in the pool, with rewards of $1,500 for taking someone out of a game, $1,000 for getting an opposing player carted off the field, and up to $10,000 given to a single player for causing a game-ending injury.
Recently, the National Football League announced the punishments for the four Saints players involved in the bounty scandal. Along with the punishments for the Saints leadership, this is the toughest punishment ever enacted on a team in the history of the NFL.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma received the harshest punishment: a one-year suspension from play for the entire 2012 season. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove was suspended for eight games without pay; Will Smith, defensive end, was suspended for four games, and Scott Fujita, linebacker, suspended for three games.
Vilma received the harshest punishment since it was found that he personally offered $10,000 to any player to take out Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship; and $10,000 to any player to injure Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner in the 2009 divisional playoff game.
Hargrove signed a declaration admitting to the program’s existence and his participation as well as acknowledging his efforts to obstruct the NFL’s investigation. Smith and Fujita pledged large amounts of their own money to the bounty pool.
The players involved were not the only ones to receive a punishment for the bounty scandal. Former Saints defensive coordinator Williams has been suspended from the league indefinitely for his role in orchestrating the bounty program. Saints coach Sean Payton has been suspended for one year, and the team faces a fine of $500,000. Additionally, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for eight games, and linebacker coach Joe Vitt is suspended for six games. The Saints also lost second-round draft picks for the next two years.
It’s going to take a while for the Saints to repair the reputational damage caused by the actions of their coaching staff and current and former players. However, there are some encouraging signs that players, staff and management are taking the matter very seriously and working hard to restore the trust of fans and opposing players.