NFL hands down unheard of penalties for bounty system

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    sean paytonThe biggest buzz are the NFL’s penalties handed to the New Orleans Saints for the bounty scandal.

    The NFL announced heavy sanctions against the Saints recently after concluding an investigation that proved former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams administered an illegal bounty program between 2009 and 2011. New Orleans defenders were financially compensated for injuring opposing offensive players.

    Williams, who left the team in January to become defensive coordinator in St. Louis, was suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season. General manager Mickey Loomis (eight-game suspension) and assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt (six) also were disciplined. In addition, the franchise was fined $500,000 and stripped of 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks.

    The NFL said four quarterbacks were specifically targeted by the Saints. One of them was dynamic Carolina Panthers rookie Cam Newton in 2011. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said he could understand why Newton was on a proverbial hit list.

    “When you see Cam come in and produce, you wonder why they wouldn’t select him as one of those guys to go after,” Davis said.

    Suspensions and fines for players who were involved are forthcoming. NFLPA executive George Atallah said he hopes the union is consulted in that disciplinary process. He said the NFLPA was unaware the league had conducted a lengthy investigation into the Saints until the day that findings were announced to the media. Atallah also said the NFLPA still has not received access to the full report that was compiled.

    OK, I understand the discipline on the coaches and soon maybe the players, but is it overdone? Did any of the players actually hurt anyone? In fact, it is very close to impossible to just not tackle but twist, maim or mutilate an individual.

    Every defensive play is trying to put a hard hit on an opposing runner or receiver or quarterback. The NFL issued this penalty because it is worried about its image and public relation status to the world. The game itself is violent and will always be so. Knockout and cremating hits are what the game is all about. Every team wants, needs to take out a quarterback to ensure a chance of winning the game.

    Anytime big bodies clash into each other injuries will happen. For example Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Theismann’s leg was gruesomely broken by Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s on national television . . . but, hey, that was just football. Johnny Unitas getting his head taken off by Dick “Night Train” Lane or Jim Brown getting closed lined by Sam Huff.

    The unprecedented severity of Goodell’s punishment has become a hot debate topic. It has never happened in sports that coaches a would get this type of treatment.

    “Anybody who has played this game, there’s a 100 percent injury risk under normal circumstances,” said an unidenified NFL veteran. “To hear there have been bounties placed on the heads of players . . . I understand you have incentive for interceptions or fumbles where you’re not trying to cause bodily harm to another man. But to actually put a price tag on somebody else’s head and go out there with the intent of trying to hurt that man and take food out of his family’s mouth, it’s unacceptable.

    How can I argue or dispute his retort? But it is really all about public relations and the way it all looks on paper and not really about the game?

    I think Goodell is trying to make sure he sends the right message that this will not be tolerated. He wants the appearance that the league is trying to focus on the health and safety on their players. This was a direct attack on that. The commissioner did this to send that message.

    Part of the reason the New Orleans Saints were punished so severely for their bounty system could be, as Commissioner Goodell indicated when explaining his decision, that nothing is as critical for the league right now as the safety of players and real concern about concussions.

    In the current climate, those issues seem to permeate every decision made at NFL headquarters.

    Leland Stein can be reached at or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII.

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