Former NFL linebacker James Harrison hinted this week that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin paid him a cash reward for an illegal hit on an opposing receiver years ago. The claim immediately reminded people of the Bountygate scandal that rocked the New Orleans Saints organization prior to the 2012 season, but Sean Payton does not expect the NFL to look into it as diligently.
Harrison was fined $75,000 for a headshot on former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in 2010, and he says Tomlin handed him an envelope after the game. During an interview with Jason La Canfora on 105.7 The Fan Thursday, Payton was asked if he thinks the NFL will look into it. He said he would be “shocked” and indicated that the league had an agenda when suspending him for the entire 2012 season.
Payton was candid when asked for his thoughts on former Steelers LB James Harrison saying in a recent podcast appearance that Mike Tomlin handed him an envelope after a big hit on Mohamed Massaquoi in 2010. pic.twitter.com/mlVQlenCLD
Payton did not go into specifics, but he called Bountygate a “sham” and said he will never get over it because of “how it was handled and how it was run and the reasons behind it.” Obviously, he thinks there was some bias on the part of the NFL.
The Saints were punished so harshly in part because of the disturbing audio clips that appeared to feature former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams urging defensive players to severely injure opponents. If something like that were to surface involving Tomlin, the NFL would have no choice but to investigate. Harrison’s comment on a podcast probably won’t be enough.
Just when you thought the allegations from the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal could not get any crazier, we get a further glimpse into just how carried away former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams may have gotten. On Monday, The Times-Picayune obtained a copy of assistant coach Joe Vitt’s Dec. 3 bounty appeals hearing testimony in front of NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. It was quite revealing.
During Vitt’s testimony, he categorized Williams as someone who has a tendency to exaggerate but insisted the players and coaches knew of his “schtick” and “false bravado” and rarely took him seriously. Vitt said that Williams not only offered to reward players for injuring opposing players, but that he also offered to pay them if they intentionally knocked down or took out the knees of opposing coaches who were standing on the sidelines.
Vitt said that he made sure the players knew such behavior would not be tolerated, and that no one on the team ever took Williams up on his ridiculous offer.
“If our players went out and performed what came out of Gregg Williams’ mouth, and it went from his lips to their ears, and then it went to the performance, we would have people in jail right now ma’am,” Vitt told NFL attorney Mary Jo White. “We would have people in jail right now.”
When you listen to some of the audio from Williams talking to his defense before a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, you get a sense of what Vitt is talking about. The details of who participated in the bounty system and to what extent will likely always remain foggy, but it’s pretty obvious that Williams was the driving force behind much of it.
Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott knows a thing or two about delivering a devastating blow. The San Francisco 49ers legend is widely considered to be one of the hardest hitters to ever play in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he advocates intentionally injuring opponents.
In fact, Lott has worked with the NFL recently to promote players safety, even narrating a video that was sent to all 32 teams earlier this season explaining how players can still deliver vicious hits that are within the confines of the rules. He also served as a motivational speaker for the 2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, but he says he would never condone the alleged bounty program that team has been accused of running.
Lott seems genuinely torn with regard to how he should feel about a team that he says was one of the most passionate he has ever been around. He says he never witnessed any players trying to injure opponents or being paid to do so, but he did not offer a very strong defense of the Saints.
When players say bounties are something that have been a part of professional football for many years, they are apparently telling the truth. Pro Football Talk obtained a copy of the latest filing in the Saints bounty case, and in it the NFLPA talks about a deal that former Packers defense lineman Reggie White made with his teammates that the NFL approved of. It was called “Smash for Cash” and consisted of paying teammates $500 for big hits.
According to the NFLPA, the league approved the program at the time “as long as players use their own money, amounts are not exorbitant and payments aren’t for illegal hits.” The NFLPA’s argument is that allowing the Packers to do it then shows inconsistency now that the NFL has suspended four Saints players for partaking in a similar program.
“The fact that the NFL has a different agenda today than in 1996 can’t change the unequivocal language of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, which has never prohibited this behavior,” the NFL said in the filing.
Comparing world affairs to professional sports is never a good idea. Football is a huge part of many of our lives, which can make it easy to get carried away when discussing issues involving the game. Drew Brees gave us an example of that on Monday night.
On Monday morning, the NFLPA made the evidence against the Saints from the bounty scandal public. While the ledger that supposedly details the bounty payments was not revealed, some other disturbing documents were. Apparently Brees thought it was all nothing, and he expressed himself with a pretty dumb comment on his Twitter account.
If NFL fans were told there were “weapons of mass destruction” enough times, they’d believe it. But what happens when you don’t find any????
Not smart. Brees, of course, is referencing how the Bush Administration eventually convinced enough people that Saddam Hussein was holding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. To this day, there is still no sign of those WMDs Bush insisted were an immediate threat to other nations. Now do you see the connection between an NFL scandal and one of the most signifcant foreign relations nightmares in our nation’s history? Yeah, neither do I.
Whether Brees feels that the bounty evidence is bogus or not, his decision to compare it to weapons of mass destruction is regrettable. Football is a game. Wartime is not.
UPDATE: Brees clarified his analogy and apologized for it.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held hearings on Monday for four players suspended in the Saints bounty scandal, who have complained that the process is unfair. Some of the players and their attorneys have said the suspensions are based on a lack of evidence.
“The NFL’s investigation has been highlighted by sensationalized headlines and unsubstantiated leaks to the media. I have yet to see anything that implicates me … not in the last three months and not today,” said former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita. “The NFL has been careless and irresponsible, and at some time will have to provide answers.”
As part of the NFL’s CBA, the league turned over evidence to the union on Friday. The union made the evidence public on Monday, and some of the information “included some 200 pages of documents, with emails, power-point presentations, even handwritten notes, plus one video recording.” The ledger that supposedly shows bounty payments was not included in the evidence, but there was some damning material.
We looked through all of the 16 exhibits the league shared with the union as part of its evidence. Most of the documents include defensive plays, schemes, schedules, and game plans for opponents. But the documents also show motivational tools the Saints used, including an image of TV personality “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” and financial charts that seem to show the amount of money being offered for various hits or injuries.
While some players implicated in the Saints bounty scandal deny any involvement with the program, the NFL reportedly has a damning piece of evidence that could prove to be a strong conflict to those assertions.
According to Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole, the league has a copy of the Saints’ bounty ledger, which was used to keep track of payments made to players for various feats as part of the system. The NFL reportedly shared parts of the ledger during meetings with members of the Saints who have been embroiled in the scandal. While it doesn’t indicate whether actual payments took place, it does reveal details of the rates allegedly being used:
In the ledger, payments of $1,000 for cart-offs (a hit that resulted in a player being helped off the field), $400 for whacks (hard hits) and $100 deductions for mental errors were kept track of for each player.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah, however, seems to be dismissive at the ledger’s actual legitimacy with respect to the NFL’s handling of the scandal.
“I guess it either qualifies as evidence, which means fair due process was violated because [the] players didn’t get to see it before they were punished or it is not hard evidence because they didn’t get to see it and cross examine the validity of that piece of evidence,” Atallah told Yahoo! Sports.
Atallah added that the NFLPA has yet to see the ledger. But for now, it still hurts some of the players’ contentions that a bounty program didn’t exist. Especially while Peter King’s best friend, Jonathan Vilma, uses litigation to prove the NFL and Roger Goodell defamed him by suspending him for the season.
One of the alarming details from the Saints bounty program that got Jonathan Vilma into trouble involves Kurt Warner. The NFL says their investigation revealed that Vilma, who has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, pledged $10,000 to any teammate who knocked Warner out during a 2009 playoff game between the Cardinals and the Saints. During an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show Thursday, Warner said he felt as though he took some high hits during the 2009 playoffs, but not from the Saints.
“There was actually a game, it might have even been the week earlier, against the Packers where I really felt like I was getting a lot of hits to the head,” Warner said. “That’s just one game that I remember and it might have just been my thought process, but I felt like there were a lot of shots going toward my head in that game.
“I played in a lot of games where (teams) were really trying to take me out. When I went back and looked at that game (against the Saints) … I don’t ever remember thinking it was anything more than a tough playoff game. I don’t remember anything that was beyond the whistle. Even the big hit was legal.”
The “big hit” that Warner is referring to was one he took after throwing an interception against the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2009. He says the NFL did not ask him about that game and that he is “surprised” by the length of Vilma’s suspension.
Warner’s point was not to say the NFL should look into a possible Packers bounty program, but rather that quarterbacks are targeted all the time. From Warner’s perspective, the way he was being hit by the Saints is not much different from the way other NFL teams hit him throughout his career.
The NFL Players Association can’t be all that pleased with Eli Manning at the moment. As we all know, the idea of a union is to be cohesive. If certain members of the union support what the other side is trying to do, the union’s position becomes weaker. On Wednesday, Roger Goodell and the NFL handed out suspensions to four current and former Saints players for their involvement in the bounty program. The NFLPA fully intends to fight those suspensions, but from the sound of it they won’t have the support of one of their most prominent members.
“I think (Goodell is) doing the right thing to make sure this doesn’t ever happen again,” Manning said during a conference call about his upcoming Saturday Night Live appearance. “There’s no room for any type of bounty system in the N.F.L. You have to respect the game.
“I think he’s been harsh to try and prove, to make a statement, that there is no place for this in the game of football.”
Jonathan Vilma, who has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, strongly disagrees with Manning. All four players who were suspended are appealing, and the Players Union has made it clear that they feel the punishments handed out were far too harsh. While I tend to agree with Manning if the information revealed in the investigation is accurate, it is surprising to see a player side with the commissioner before the league has heard the NFLPA’s appeals.
The commissioner has spoken, once again. As expected, his voice was heard clearly across the NFL world. The NFL announced on Wednesday morning that four current and former Saints players have been suspended for their roles in the Saints bounty system. Jonathan Vilma has been banned for the entire 2012 season while defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove was given an eight-game suspension, defensive end Will Smith a four-game suspension, and linebacker Scott Fujita a three-game ban.
Fujita is now with the Browns and Hargrove is with the Packers. While many believe Gregg Williams should shoulder most — if not all — of the blame for running a bounty system, Goodell and company clearly do not agree. Vilma and Sean Payton will both miss all of 2012, and the NFL has suspended current and former Saints players, coaches, and officials a total of 61 regular-season games since the offseason began.
Vilma, who currently has a picture of the Sports Illustrated bounty scandal cover as his Twitter avatar, was believed to be far more than just a participant in the program. He once reportedly placed $10,000 on a locker room table and told his teammates it would go to anyone who could knock Brett Favre out of a 2010 playoff game. As we saw from Favre’s ankle injury a couple of seasons ago, the cash may have inspired his teammates.