New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended without pay for the 2012 season by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was banned indefinitely for the team’s infamous bounty system on opposing players. However, Goodell said that he will review Williams’ status after next season. While I used to live in New Orleans and often cheer on the team (when the Bears are not playing), I think Williams should have received a lifetime ban and I am not sure Payton did not also deserve such a ban over the disgraceful practice. I also do not understand why the defensive line players who took this money have not also been punished, but Goodell said that he will address them separately. Goodell did fine the Saints $500,000 and took away their second-round draft picks this year and next year — sending a clear message to all teams.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight regular-season games next season, and assistant coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games.
Under the system, players were paid thousands of dollars for injuring specific players. Williams appears the main proponent of the system. The bounties were paid to 22 – 27 defensive players. “Knockouts” were worth $1,500 and “cart-offs” $1,000. They doubled or tripled the payouts for playoff games. The bounty reached as high as $50,000 in 2009. That was the year that Saints won the Super Bowl.
We have seen a line of cases involving criminal and civil liability over attacks by players on other players. Usually, these cases involve players getting too physical in contact sports. Even golf has been the subject of litigation.
We discuss this controversy in torts in the context of the case of Hackbart v. The Cincinnati Bengals involving a game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in Denver in 1973. The Broncos’ defensive back, Dale Hackbart, was injured by a blow by Bengals’ offensive back, Charles “Booby” Clark. The court ruled that the hit fell outside of the NFL rules and thus Hackbart did not consent to such a battery. The reason was that the hit violated the rules of the game. However, there was no discussion of whether the rules of the NFL differed from the practices or industry custom.
This case would appear to question whether the court in Hackbart should have looked more closely on the actual practices in football as opposed to simply the rules. Yet, this punishment would suggest that the NFL is trying to bring practices in line with the rules. The individual players competing for the bounties should also be severely punished, though it is unclear if they will be punished. “Just following orders” has never been a particularly good defense and here the players are actively targeting individual players for injury. When players are hit with penalties for just grabbing a helmet, it seems incongruous to let them walk on a bounty system to receive money to put another player on a stretcher.
In the end, I would have imposed heavier penalties against both the team and the individuals. While the loss of two draft picks is heavy, it is not heavy enough even with the $500,000 fine in my view. This bounty system does not simply violate core rules of the game but constitutes the worst form of bad sportsmanship and misconduct in a professional sport. It sends a terrible message to all of the young people playing this sport. Lifetime bans would have been appropriate for the key managers in implementing such a system.
What do you think?
What would be interesting is a lawsuit by one of the injured players last season along the line of Hackbart. Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner, call me.
Source: US News