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SBD/March 5, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is at the center of the NFL’s investigation into a bounty system that rewarded players for injuring opponents, will “meet again with league security officials” today in N.Y., according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. The NFL is “expected to hand down harsh sanctions, which will almost certainly include fines, suspensions and/or lost draft picks, to people involved in the bounties” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/5). Battista on Saturday noted the NFL released an investigation on Friday that found that members of the Saints’ defense during the past three seasons “maintained a lucrative bounty system that paid players for injuring opponents.” The bounty system was “financed mostly by players -- as many as 27 of them -- and was administered” by Williams, who “also contributed money to the pool.” The NFL said that neither Saints coach Sean Payton nor GM Mickey Loomis “did anything to stop the bounties when they were made aware of them or when they learned of the league’s investigation.” The league noted that Loomis “did not even stop the bounties when ordered to” by Saints Owner Tom Benson. Bounties are a violation of NFL rules, and the finding that the Saints, one of the NFL’s “most successful teams in recent years, participated in them is a black eye for a league that has sought to address safety and concussion concerns.” With the NFL “facing more than a dozen concussion-related lawsuits, Commissioner Roger Goodell has made player safety a focal point,” and that “portends harsh discipline for the Saints.” Goodell in a statement said, “The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players. The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.” The league said that it “interviewed a wide range of people, and reviewed approximately 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, using outside forensic experts to verify the authenticity of key documents.” According to a memo sent to NFL teams explaining the situation, money was “contributed to the pool by at least one outsider, Michael Ornstein, a marketing agent who is close to Payton.” Ornstein pledged “$10,000 toward a quarterback bounty in the playoffs during the 2009 season, and offered substantial sums toward a bounty on a quarterback last season on at least two occasions -- once in an e-mail to Payton.” The league said that Benson “cooperated with the investigation and that when he was made aware of the new information in January before the playoffs, he told Loomis to stop the bounties immediately” (N. Y. TIMES, 3/3).
DETAILS OF THE INVESTIGATION: The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Matthew Futterman reports the NFL “first received information about the Saints' alleged bounty system late in the 2009 season and during that year's playoffs.” Sources said that investigators for the league “pursued the case, but everyone the league questioned denied it, and the person who had tipped the league off to the behavior changed his story.” The sources said that the investigators “didn't request access to franchise communications at that time or pursue the matter further.” But when the league “received more concrete information this past season, investigators confronted” Benson and “decided to take a far more aggressive approach.” Sources said that Benson “agreed to turn over thousands of pages of documents voluntarily.” League officials said that they “spent the past several months reviewing some 50,000 pages of e-mails and other forms of communication, as well as interviewing multiple witnesses.” A source said that the NFLPA “wasn't informed about the investigation and would ask to see all the relevant documents in the case” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/5). NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello yesterday in an e-mail said that the investigation “was far from over and that the league will continue ‘addressing the issues raised as part of our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of the game’” (AP, 3/5). A league source said that an announcement from Goodell on the Saints’ punishment “is expected before the league’s annual spring meetings from March 25-28 in Palm Beach, Fla.” (NYPOST.com, 3/4). In DC, Mark Maske cited a source as saying that “some of the sanctions could be ‘unprecedented.’” The source said that the suspensions under consideration “are a half-season or longer in some cases” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/4).
ALL EYES ON GOODELL: The AP’s Tim Dahlberg wrote Goodell’s decision on the punishment is the “perfect opportunity to take a stand, a great chance to show he's serious about protecting players.” He can be “tough, and he should be tough” (AP, 3/4). ESPN.com’s John Clayton noted the story “couldn't have come at a worse time,” as the NFL “wants to change the culture of the game by eliminating cheap shots and curtailing concussions” (ESPN.com, 3/2). ESPN.com’s Mike Sando wrote the scandal “provides Goodell with a rare opportunity to attack player safety at the institutional level” (ESPN.com, 3/3). The N.Y. Daily News' Mike Lupica siad, “This is a chance for Goodell to put -- literally -- his money where his mouth is on what he has been saying about player safety” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 3/4).SI.com’s Peter King wrote Goodell is “angry about this sustained use of paying players to hurt players on other teams” (SI.com, 3/2). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote what makes this “even worse is that there was a widespread coverup,” and Goodell has “a big problem with being lied to” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/4). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell in a sports section cover story noted Goodell “views the Saints case as a critical opportunity to underscore the league’s burgeoning emphasis on safety and need to change a culture that sometimes promotes injuries” (USA TODAY, 3/5). On Long Island, Bob Glauber noted in an era in which promoting player safety has become one of Goodell’s “central tenets, he now has some important decisions to make about disciplining those involved.” The punishment “must be swift, and it must be severe” (NEWSDAY, 3/3).
A BLACK EYE: In New Orleans, James Varney wrote the Saints’ image “was severely bruised by the revelation” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/4). In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote the “integrity of this country's most popular sports league has been battered, and its commitment to safety bloodied.” This is “about fighting to rid the league of its growing culture of well-funded, team-approved potential assassins” (L.A. TIMES, 3/4). ABC News’ Chris Bury said, “The Saints face stiff NFL sanctions, a blow to the toast of New Orleans after Katrina, a team the league charges paid not only to hit but to hurt” (“World News,” ABC, 3/3). In S.F., Gwen Knapp wrote “worst fines, suspensions and draft-pick losses won't touch the culture of the game, and the players know it” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/4).
Hockey is "joining the drive to end homophobia in sports with a public-service message" featuring eight NHL players, including Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist, Ducks RW Corey Perry and Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson, according to Klein & Hackel of the N.Y. TIMES. You Can Play, the campaign being promoted by the players, is "another in a series of efforts by hockey’s Burke family to open doors for gay athletes to participate in sports." Flyers scout and project founder Patrick Burke said it is intended to “make locker rooms safe for all athletes, rather than places of fear, slurs and bullying.” The message was "shown for the first time during the first intermission of NBC’s Sunday afternoon telecast of the Bruins-Rangers game." Burke said that 35 NHL players "have committed to take part in the project." The You Can Play website went live yesterday. Burke’s younger brother, Brendan, "acknowledged he was gay while serving as the manager of the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team." Their father, Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke, "marched in Toronto’s gay pride parade with Brendan, and again after Brendan died" in a '10 car accident. Patrick Burke said, "It is important for straight athletes at all levels to step up and let gay athletes know they will be accepted, and to let other straight athletes know that homophobic language and attitude is never appropriate." Burke noted that You Can Play’s advisory panel has reps from the NFL, the NBA, MLS and women’s sports. The project "plans to produce a playbook for coaches, players, members of the news media and administrators at all age levels to create a nonthreatening environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/4).
SUPPORTING THE CAUSE: Brian Burke "helped line up 35 NHL players to participate in the campaign." He said, "Virtually every player that was approached accepted immediately" (USA TODAY, 3/5). Patrick Burke added, "The response we've received from the athletes has been a little overwhelming, frankly" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/4). In DC, Dan Steinberg noted the project's founders "have told participating athletes that they aren't asking for partisan arguments or political stands," and the group "does not have a formal position on gay marriage or any other non-athletic issue." Patrick Burke: "We've asked them to say they would support an openly gay teammate. That's all we've asked them to say, and that's all we'll ever ask them to say" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/4).
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard on Saturday said that there has been “no talk of a driver boycott at Texas Motor Speedway, and the series will race there as planned this season,” according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. Bernard in a statement said, "Never has there been any discussion by IndyCar's drivers about boycotting Texas Motor Speedway. We have so many good things happening in the series, we are not going to let rumors tear down all the positives we have as we continue to move forward." A report two weeks ago indicated that the drivers “were discussing boycotting the race over concerns about the fencing at Texas.” Driver Dan Wheldon was killed in an October crash when his head hit a post in the fence at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The fence at TMS is “constructed the same way as the fence at Las Vegas, with the posts inside the mesh wiring” (AP, 3/3). RACIN TODAY’s John Sturbin noted drivers still “remain skittish in the aftermath” of Wheldon’s fatal crash at LVMS. But TMS President Eddie Gossage said, “I’m really disappointed and don’t know why IndyCar drivers feel the need to constantly damage the sport. You know, engineers have told us over and over that the current fence design is the best that technology provides us today. But if you were a sponsor, if you were a fan, if you were a TV network -- why would you get involved with IndyCar racing if they can’t tell you today where they’re going to race tomorrow? And the drivers -- the spokespersons for the sport -- are tearing it down?” He added, “So, it’s absolutely irresponsible of those drivers, and they deserve -- because of the way they conduct themselves sometimes -- they deserve where they stand now in the food chain of motorsports.” Gossage said that he will “continue to deal” with IndyCar on “a year-by-year basis” (RACINTODAY.com, 3/2).