The punishment was unprecedented.
And it wasn’t harsh enough.
This week, the National Football League suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for a year without pay after discovering he operated a disgusting “bounty” system. He paid his defensive players bonuses for injuring opposing players harshly enough to render them unable to play.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Payton’s repulsive scheme “particularly unusual and egregious” and “totally unacceptable.”
He could’ve added the word “criminal,” because that’s exactly what it smells like.
We know football is a rough sport. Pain has been a part of American football since its inception. But the physicality of football is carefully controlled violence.
The Saints sunk to barbarity. What Payton and his players perpetrated – conspiring to inflict lasting bodily harm on others, and under-the-table money changing hands because of it – sounds like a criminally prosecutable offense. What if these same assaults erupted among ordinary street thugs and not on a football field? It would lead to arrests and jail, most likely.
Credit Goodell for zero tolerance, and for swift and decisive action against this rotten conspiracy that was the utter polar opposite of good sportsmanship.
The punishment didn’t stop with Payton. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, has been banned indefinitely. The NFL also banned Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season, and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
Goodell also fined the Saints $500,000 and took away the team’s second-round draft picks this year and next.
Was that enough?
First, the $500,000 fine. That’s it? To a professional sports franchise, half-a-million might as well be a parking ticket. It would be much more appropriate if the fine were jacked up closer to $5 million.
And should any of the coaches involved ever take the field to help lead a team again? Remember this quote from Williams (emphasis ours): “It was a terrible mistake. And we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.”
Let that sink in. The NFL and the Saints had already told Payton to make sure that his system of extra cash payouts vanished. Payton heard them – and kept doing it anyway.
That’s not a little “whoops” mistake. That’s willful disobedience. That’s thumbing his nose to his superiors. Payton might as well have hung a framed certificate on his office wall that read: “I simply don’t care about the rules or fair play.”
Several athletes across several sports have received lifetime professional bans, often for repeated drug use. They were injuring themselves.
Should a punishment be any less for a coach who encouraged and rewarded injuring others?