The New Orleans Saints' defense had a bounty program to pay players for injuring their opponents worth up to $50,000, the National Football League said Friday following an extensive investigation.
The program was financed by players and at least one assistant coach, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, over the last three seasons with payment amounts reaching their height in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl. According to the Associated Press, payouts included $1,500 for knocking an opposing player out of the game and $1,000 when an opponent was carted off the field. Payments doubled or tripled during playoffs, with Brett Favre and Kurt Warner among the targets.
"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," said Williams, now the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.
According to the New York Times, the NFL's investigation began in 2010 when an unnamed player accused the Saints of targeting opponents. Between 22 and 27 defensive players were involved, and neither Coach Sean Payton nor General Manager Mickey Loomis did anything to stop it once they learned about the program or the investigation.
The NFL investigation's findings were corroborated by multiple independent sources, the AP reported. Individual players contributed cash to the pool, reportedly up to $10,000 in one case, and sometimes earmarked for specific players.
"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for `performance,' but also for injuring opposing players," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, according to the AP. "The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity."
Payouts for specific game performances are against NFL rules. As punishment, Williams, the organization, and specific players involved could face heavy fines and suspensions, as well as lose draft picks.
"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated," Goodell said. "We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."