Saints hit with suspensions for bounties

March 21, 2012 at 8:48 PM
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NEW YORK, March 21 (UPI) -- The NFL suspended New Orleans Coach Sean Payton and former assistant Gregg Williams Wednesday for their role in a plot to intentionally hurt opposing players.

Payton, who led the Saints to the Super Bowl championship three seasons ago, was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season -- a move that will cost him $8 million. Williams, now the defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams -- and who the NFL said admitted administering a bounty program in which New Orleans players were paid if they knocked opponents out of a game -- was suspended indefinitely.

New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games. The team was stripped of a second-round draft pick in each of the next two years and fined $500,000.

Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the unprecedented penalties in a lengthy statement that highlighted his concern for player safety and covered specific incidents that led to the punishment.

He cited e-mails involving a cover-up of the bounty program and said one New Orleans player offered a $10,000 bounty if former quarterback Brett Favre was knocked out of the 2010 NFC Championship game.

"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," Goodell said. "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."

Goodell indicated he was particularly upset that those involved in the bounty program lied about its existence.

"A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious," he said.

"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."

Goodell said every team in the league would have to certify in writing by March 30 that no bounty program exists within its franchise. Both the owner of the club and the head coach must sign the certification.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions," Williams said in a statement released by the Rams. "I highly value the 23 years that I've spent in the NFL. I will continue to cooperate fully with the league and its investigation and I will focus my energies on serving as an advocate for both player safety and sportsmanship."

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