|Saints Players Suspended for Participation in Pay For Performance Bounty Program|
|Written by NFL|
|Wednesday, 02 May 2012 10:45|
New York, New York - Four players: Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Jonathan Vilma - were notified today that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-performance/bounty program that endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009-2011. Participation by players in any such program is prohibited by the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, the standard NFL Player Contract, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The specific discipline was determined by Commissioner Roger Goodell after a thorough review of extensive evidence corroborated by multiple independent sources. Under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the standard NFL Player Contract, a player is subject to discipline by the commissioner for conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. The discipline imposed today for such detrimental conduct is as follows:
Fujita, Hargrove, and Smith may participate in all off-season activity, including preseason games, prior to the suspensions taking effect. Each player disciplined today is entitled to appeal the decision within three days. If an appeal is filed, Commissioner Goodell would hold a hearing at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel.
“It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced,” Commissioner Goodell said. “Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field.”
The evidence conclusively demonstrated that from 2009-2011 Saints players of their own accord pledged significant amounts of their own money toward bounties, that players accepted payments for “cart-offs” and “knockouts” of injured opposing players, and that the payout amounts doubled and tripled for playoff games.
Commissioner Goodell concluded, as he did with the Saints’ non-player employees, that it was appropriate to focus on those individuals who had a higher degree of responsibility and whose conduct warranted special attention. While a significant number of players participated in the pay-for-performance program, whether by contributing funds to the pool or collecting cash rewards, the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level, Commissioner Goodell noted.
“In assessing player discipline,” Commissioner Goodell said, “I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”
Each of the four players disciplined today met one or more of those criteria, Commissioner Goodell said.
The evidence supporting today’s disciplinary decisions is based on extensive documentation and interviews with multiple sources. The information was developed by NFL Security, working with independent forensic analysts, and the disciplinary decisions are each based on evidence that has been independently corroborated by multiple sources. The facts supporting the discipline issued today are largely the same as the facts that Commissioner Goodell relied upon in March in assessing discipline on the club and several non-player employees. Those facts have been part of the public record for two months and have not been disputed by the team or the individuals involved.
“No bounty program can exist without active player participation,” Commissioner Goodell said. “The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”
The NFL Players Association received the confidential March 2 and March 21 reports on the Saints matter that were distributed to the clubs. In addition, members of the NFL staff, including the NFL Security investigators, met with NFLPA officials to review the results of their investigation. A number of current and former players, including each player disciplined today, were offered the opportunity to be interviewed with counsel present. One player (Hargrove) submitted a written statement in which he did not dispute the existence of the program, but no player agreed to be interviewed in person. In addition, the NFLPA publicly stated that it conducted its own investigation into this matter, but it has shared no information from that investigation with the NFL.
Commissioner Goodell also has advised the NFLPA of the names of all other players shown by the NFL’s investigation to have participated in the Saints’ pay-for-performance/bounty program but were not disciplined. The commissioner again invited the union to provide recommendations on how best to promote fair play, player safety and the elimination of bounties from the game at all levels. He said that identifying the other participants may assist the union in its stated desire to advance those goals.
Discipline for the Saints and club management was announced by the NFL on March 21. The Saints were fined $500,000 and forfeited two second-round draft choices (one in 2012 and one in 2013). In addition, suspensions without pay were issued to former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (indefinitely), head coach Sean Payton (2012 NFL season), general manager Mickey Loomis (first eight regular-season games of 2012), and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (first six regular-season games of 2012).