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"BountyGate": The Sins of the Saints

The franchise that once rose out of the sea to bring its broken community back together now finds itself crumbling all around them. On an otherwise normal Friday afternoon yesterday, news broke of an unprecedented scandal which claims that the New Orleans Saints have had a secret "bounty-ring" taking place behind closed doors for several years including 2009, the year in which the Saints won Super Bowl XLVI. This "ring", or group of players and coaches, had been participating in "head-hunting" in an effort to severely injure opposing players with the ultimate goal of knocking them out of the game. These "bounties" or "head-hunting" acts are believed to have taken place in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons.

In a matter of hours, a whirlwind of news and rumors took the NFL by storm, some more disturbing and concerning than others. Several reports have claimed that not only were Saints players on the field intentionally trying to injure and cause bodily harm, they were betting on these activities, much like you would place a wager on the outcome of any given football game. Many reports have indicated that inside the defensive locker room, between 20-30 players and coaches alike threw money into a pool as a "Pay for Performance" incentive that would pay out cash to players that injured or took opposing team’s players out of games. This "program", as reported by the NFL, would pay out: $1,500 for a "knockout" and $1,000 for a "cart-off" with payments sometimes doubling or even tripling during the playoffs. It is also believed that the pool of money out of which players would get paid for their "performance" reached a total of $50,000 at one point during the 2009 playoff run which ended with a Saints super bowl victory.

(After the "Jump", delve deeper into the ‘rabbit hole’, see which "Saint" offered up $10,000 for a QBs head, and take part in our poll to determine what the Saints’ punishment should be.)

Perhaps the most disturbing evidence to come out of this scandal is that these activities were being sanctioned by coaches, most notably, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams, now the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator, would also place his own money into the pool that would pay players extra cash for making good on their "bounties". As if a high-ranking coach such as Williams participating wasn’t bad enough, as this story unfolds it only gets worse. According to the NFL, Saints head coach Sean Payton had knowledge of the "Player Performance Program", and while not an active participant, the fact that he stood idly by while his players were carrying out these "bounties" simply isn’t a good enough excuse for this to have gone on for as long as it did. Not once did Payton order the discontinuation of the "program" and he allowed these despicable activities to carry on all while having full knowledge of what was happening within his team behind closed doors.

Since the NFL released its reports on this scandal yesterday, more evidence has come to light. While the details of which players had participated in these egregious acts have yet to be released, there is one player that is currently sticking out from the bunch. Jonathan Vilma, as reported by Adam Schefter, threw $10,000 down on a table before the 2009 NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings and said that the money would go to whoever was victorious in knocking out quarterback Brett Favre.

This is still only very much so the beginning of what will become one of the biggest scandals in NFL history. Expect that over the coming weeks, several players will be implicated in their involvement in this "program" and look for to the NFL to levy heavy and perhaps never-before-seen fines and disciplinary actions. The Saints should be expecting a heavy dose of fines, suspensions, and the loss of at least a couple of draft picks. It should also be noted that the "Player Perfomance Program" the Saints were running is in direct violation of not only league rules, but also the collective bargaining agreement because some of these players were getting paid outside of their NFL contracts; simply put, it is a violation of the leagues salary cap regulations.

The Saints, once a bight shining beacon of hope for a city torn apart by a devastating natural disaster, will now in the wake of this disturbing news have their reputation’s sullied and tarnished forever.