The NFL And Their Inconsistency With "Bountygate" And Player Fines

By Brandon Winkler

By now you’ve all heard the story of the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” scandal that took the media by storm. It’s arguably one of, if not the biggest controversy to ever hit the NFL.

According to the NFL’s investigation, 22-27 Saints defensive players maintained a “pay for performance” program that included “bounty” payments administered by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. The fund reached as much as $50,000 or more and players were paid $1,500 for a hit that knocked an opponent from a game and $1,000 for a hit that led to an opposing player being helped off the field. Those amounts doubled or tripled for playoff games. The investigation also said Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma allegedly placed a $10,000 “bounty” on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre prior 2009 NFC Championship game.

The scandal resulted in a $500,000 fine for the New Orleans Saints, including the loss of their 2012 and 2013 second round draft picks. Members of the Saints staff were also suspended due to their knowledge of the program and lying to the NFL during their investigation.

Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season and may not contact any player or team in the league. This includes attending NFL games, so it’ll practically be like another NFL lockout where players and coaches couldn’t contact one another.

General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games for his knowledge of the system. Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt was also suspended for six games. Vitt will become the interim head coach of the team following his suspension. Both Loomis and Vitt’s suspensions will begin after the preseason is completed.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is now with the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely and will be eligible for reinstatement upon review following the 2012 season.

One thing to note, Commissioner Roger Goodell noted that lying played a huge part of the severity of these punishments. If there wasn’t any cover-up during their investigation you could speculate there would have been lesser punishments handed out.

This isn’t the first big penalty the NFL has laid down.

In 2007, the NFL came down on the New England Patriots for illegally videotaping an opponent. Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000, stripped a first-round draft pick, and fined their coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 for the scandal known as “Spygate.”

The NFL has handed out stiff penalties before due to lying also.

In 2009, NFL officials fined Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre $50,000 for what they said was a lack of candor and a failure to cooperate with a league investigation. He was accused of sending graphic photos and suggestive messages to a woman while both were employed by the New York Jets in 2008.

Big money for a fine, surely not a suspension, but Goodell holds coaches to a higher standard than players. It was Sean Payton’s team, he was warned to end the program, and didn’t. Surely he would have been looking at a possible eight-game suspension if Gregg Williams had ended the system when he was first told to. However, he didn’t so the hammer was dropped harder on him due to his staff technically being his responsibility.

After seeing such a hard punishment handed out for Favre lying it wasn’t too far fetched to believe that the NFL would make an example of the Saints to make sure this type of system never takes place again.

Yet, you have to ask yourself, the most severe punishment ever handed down by the league was to a coach. Was that really fair or necessary?

In the NFL statement when they announced their findings during the “Bountygate” investigation, it mentions how the bounty rule promotes player safety, which the Saints violated.

However if the NFL knew this was taking place since the 2009 season, why did they take three years to collect knowledge? You would think at the first legit proof this system existed, you would have ended right there if you cared so much about player safety wouldn’t you? Furthermore, if it took three years of collecting evidence against a team – how much of the evidence you have is actually credible?

What this all boils down to is money and trying to create an image that isn’t there. Nearly 1,200 former players have filed concussion related lawsuits against the NFL.

If the NFL shows that they have delivered harsh penalties to the team and players involved with the bounty system, they can use this argument in court saying they acted quickly when they had enough evidence to support the speculation that this existed. The players will use the Saints system as part of their argument saying the NFL didn’t monitor teams enough or protect the players – especially when it took three years to clamp down on New Orleans.

The NFL investigation only mentioned four players who were actually bounty targets. Those players were quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings, and finally Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals.

Out of those four players only one of them were actually knocked out of the game for a series and that was Warner in the 2009 NFC Divisional Playoffs. This hit was a legal hit in which Warner was laid-out by former-defensive end Bobby McCray on a block following Will Smith’s interception. There was no flag thrown on the play.

So, surely it wasn’t much of a bounty system if there was only four targets named.

In the next game during the 2009 NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings, McCray also had two borderline hits on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. He was flagged on one play for unnecessary roughness, after Favre handed the ball off to wide-out Percy Harvin on a reverse. During this play Favre acted like he had the ball, which resulted in the contact.

On the second play, McCray hit Favre below the knees from behind, as the quarterback threw an interception to Jonathan Vilma. He was flagged for this call.

The NFL reviewed the tape and in the end fined McCray $20,000 for these two incidences with Favre, but no fine was handed out for the block on Kurt Warner.

Technically, if the NFL already handed out fines this issue should be complete. Whether or not the referee flagged a player during the game or not, the NFL still reviews all plays following the game and hands out fines appropriately. So clearly the NFL hadn’t seen much of a problem with several of the calls since the 2009 season.

There was also an audio tape released by Sean Pamphilon who was hired by Steve Gleason to film a documentary, of former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams giving a fiery speech the night before the Saints NFC Divisional Playoffs contest with the San Francisco 49ers in January.

Many people take the contents of the tape as a “bounty” due to Williams mentioning several players and instructing them to target prior injuries they’ve had and specific areas to “knock them out of the game.”

The issue with that is the Saints had zero penalties during their contest against the 49ers. So it’s evident that the players made no efforts into carrying out any sort of bounty order.

There has been plenty of inconsistency with the amount of fines that were handed out to players also.

In December in a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, Kyle Williams slipped and fell to the turf in Seattle on a 4th quarter kickoff return. Michael Robinson speared Williams in the back of his right shoulder while rookie linebacker Adrian Moten dove at Williams from the other side simultaneously. Moten’s helmet collided with Williams’ helmet, which left Williams with a concussion. It also led to a 15-yard penalty and the NFL handed out a $7,500 fine to Moten for helmet-to-helmet contact.

However, the day after the fine was handed out to Moten, the NFL also fined Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch $10,000 for wearing cleats with a Skittles pattern.

San Francisco 49ers wide-receiver Michael Crabtree was fined $10,000 for wearing gold cleats against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 49ers safety Donte Whitner was fined $5,000 for wearing long black socks during the same game, and wide-receiver Kyle Williams has been fined $5,000 on more than one occasion for having too much white showing on his socks.

New England Patriots wide-receiver Wes Welker was fined for wearing a baseball cap at a postgame interview with the brand of power bar he’s an investor in. The NFL smacked him with a $10,000 fine.

So if the NFL cares so much about safety, why are they fining a player more for wearing cleats and a baseball that violate the leagues uniform policy more than a hit that landed a player with a concussion?

Lets not forget how the NFL only suspended Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison for one game after a hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Just a one game suspension even though he had been repeatedly flagged for helmet-to-helmet and unsportsmanlike penalties. In fact, he accumulated a total of $120,000 worth of fines in 2010 alone. Yet, they allowed him to continue playing.

We won’t even get into the NFL trying to expand the season to 18 games, which jeopardizes player safety in order for the league to cash in on more money.

Also as far as Sean Payton, head coach of the Saints, year long suspension is concerned lets compare his penalty to a couple notable season-long suspensions.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely due to his dog fighting ring. New England Patriots wide-reciever Donte Stallworth was suspended by the NFL for the 2009 season after pleading guilty and being convicted on DUI manslaughter charges in Florida.

Also, NFL cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was suspended for the 2007 season after, according to a Las Vegas club co-owner, Jones became enraged when a dancer began taking the money without his permission. He allegedly grabbed her by her hair and slammed her head on the stage. A shooting with Jones’ entourage also took place when he pulled out a gun and opened fire in a crowd. A document later revealed that Jones paid $15,000 to various people involved in the Las Vegas shooting.

So in the eyes of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, due to the bounty issue effecting players on the field of play – Sean Payton’s knowledge is worth of the same punishment as an involvement in a shooting, assault on a woman, and DUI manslaughter. We aren’t even getting into how Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was investigated a couple times for being accused of rape in 2008, a case which was later settled, and of  sexual assault in 2010.

Clearly the NFL doesn’t have an appropriate “fine scale” for incidents and also there’s speculation that the increase in fines handed out are less about player safety and more about the league finding a way to get more money.

With player suspensions for the New Orleans Saints to be released soon there’s really no telling who could be given what.

With linebacker Jonathan Vilma allegedly putting a $10,000 bounty on Favre, he seems like the favorite to get the harshest punishment. Yet, the NFL would have to prove that Vilma actually did this and not rely on word of mouth for their evidence. It’s highly unlikely they have anything credible against Vilma for this allegation.

NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reports that Saints safety Roman Harper and defensive end Will Smith, were featured prominently in the league’s investigation of bounties and may face more serious discipline than most of their 22 to 27 teammates who were identified as taking part in the bounty scandal.

Looking ahead at the players who could possibly involved, Darren Sharper, Charles Grant, Pierson Prioleau, Chris Reis, Leigh Torrence, Mike McKenzie, Chris McAlister, Troy Evans, and Bobby McCray have all been released or are retired.

The Minnesota Vikings have released Remi Ayodele and Scott Fujita is with the Cleveland Browns. Tracy Porter is with the Denver Broncos and Anthony Hargrove has joined the Green Bay Packers.

So potentially 13 of the 22-27 players are no longer on the team, however this is the first time outside of Vilma that any other players names have been mentioned.

The thing is, how can the NFL determine what hits were the cause of playing football and which were due to a bounty system?

Speaking of the bounty system again, you’d expect a team running such a system would be highly penalized right? In 2009 the Saints were the 12th fewest penalized team in the league, in 2010 they were the 15th fewest, and they finished with the 10th fewest in 2011.

For those that want to pull the whole “why hasn’t Goodell investigated other teams yet for their bounties?” The NFL has and they have said despite a few players claims that they have found no evidence to support it.

Can you really do a full fledged investigation back to 2007 and earlier? Nothing you will find will be accurate.

Here’s the problem with players admitting it existed and only a couple saying it was there: They could be lying to get him in further trouble due to dislike of the system and Williams. Why else would two starting defensive players say two completely different things when they’re in the same locker room?

On top of that, if it did exist, why only a handful coming forward? Furthermore, you can’t appropriately punish teams for doing something in the old days if it isn’t continuing now.

The issue with the New York Giants, who my opinion is the only team the NFL can really target due to players admitting targeting Kyle Williams in the NFC Conference Championship against the San Francisco 49ers, saying they went for his concussion and tried to knock him out the game is — even if the players did do that, if they can’t find proof that the coaches instructed, they’re acting under their own will and there’s really there’s nothing they can do.

Currently Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is bracing for a 2-8 game suspension. There’s no way of telling if that’s what we really should expect or not given how the NFL handled Sean Payton’s suspension.

If the NFL is going to hand out suspensions they need to prove that the money handed out to players were in exchange for an injury. Remember, the Saints admitted to a pay-for-performance system which rewarded players with extra cash for interceptions, fumbles, sacks, etc. So they have to prove that the money being exchanged isn’t for that and that it’s due to the bounty system.

If the NFL can’t prove that this money was exchanged for injury- they have no case and no grounds of suspending anyone for anything.

The bottom line is there has been a lot of inconsistency with the NFL and the way punishments have been handed out.

If they really cared about the safety of players, perhaps NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should demonstrate that through his acts and not just when it involves collecting money or players having lawsuits against the league.

At the end of the day, he’s fooling no one when he does things to try and look good.



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