Facing concussion lawsuits from an army of ex-players, the National Football League sent out a strong message last week with its punishment of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
Payton was suspended for a year without pay last week for his role in what has been dubbed a “bounty” program, in which Saints players were financially rewarded for hurting opponents bad enough to make them leave the gridiron. One can only guess how many of the Saints’ opponents suffered concussions as a result of this bounty system.
According to The New York Times, Payton’s punishment marked the first time that the league has suspended a coach for any significant period of time.
The NFL has good reason to drum home the fact that it takes player safety seriously: It has been bombarded with lawsuits from ex-players who claim that the league played down or misrepresented the long-term damage of of concussions. These players allege that they are now suffering the consequences, one of them being chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a degenerative brain disease with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s.
Payton, who makes $7 million a year, wasn’t the only one suspended over the bounty program. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, according to The Times. Williams is now with the St. Louis Rams.
The Saints general manager, Mickey Loomis, was suspended for the first eight weeks of the season, and the team was fined $500,000.
The Saints did issue an apology for the bounty system, which ran from 2009 to 2011, and particularly targeted the quarterbacks Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner and Cam Newton, The Times reported. From 22 to 27 players reportedly participated in the “program.”
“While players have informally exchanged money for big plays like interceptions and fumbles for years — a violation of of league rules — the NFL was troubled by a program that blatantly promoted injuring opponents,” The Times wrote.
The NFL is to be commended for imposing tough penalties in this case.
Football is dangerous enough as it it. It doesn’t need players being paid extra cash to knock someone’s block off.