NFL Issues Tough Punishment to Players For Roles in Illegal Bounty Program

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Jonathan Vilma

The long and punishing arm of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came thundering down in historic fashion today with the announcement of player suspensions for their role in the infamous New Orleans Saints so-called “Bounty Program.”

Hit the hardest was Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his alleged leadership role in the team’s pay-for-hits system. Others were not bludgeoned like Vilma, but punished nonetheless: Anthony Hargrove, a former Saints defensive end who signed with the Green Bay Packers, was tapped with an eight-game suspension; defensive end Will Smith was suspended for four games; and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was suspended for three games.

All suspensions include no pay for the games missed.

“In assessing player discipline,” Goodell said in a statement, “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.”

Vilma was hit the hardest because the NFL found in its investigation that Vilma offered $10,000 of his own money to any team member who knocked Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of 2009 playoff games. In an attempt to minimize his forthcoming punishment, Vilma agreed to a rare pay cut last month. Now, his pay has been cut completely. He was due to make $3.3 million salary and bonuses in 2012.

Goodell sentenced Saints head coach Sean Payton to a season-long suspension. The team’s interim coach, Joe Vitt, was banned for eight games but can coach at offseason minicamps and the preseason games. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the “godfather” of the program, has been suspended indefinitely.

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