NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is defending his harsh punishments over the Saints bounty scandal, saying that the longer the league investigated, the longer the Saints lied about what was happening.
“It’s a violation of a very serious rule,” Goodell said today. “We have made player health and safety very clear as a priority. I have addressed it with owners, head coaches, general managers and all of our personnel several times a year. When this first was raised over two years ago, there were denials. They frankly were not forthright with what was happening. And that continued, and it continued even through our investigation into the past several weeks. So it’s a serious violation of our policy. It is something that has zero tolerance in the NFL. It’s not acceptable to hide the issues, continue to violate NFL policy, put our players at risk. That’s going to be dealt with very harshly.”
Goodell said that the league talked to the Saints the day before they beat the Lions in this year’s playoffs, and Goodell isn’t sure whether the Saints had halted their bounty program even at that point.
“I don’t know,” Goodell said. “Our point was if there is one you better make sure it’s not in effect because we’re continuing our investigation.”
Goodell acknowledged that there have been other violations of the league’s rule against handing out money in the locker room to reward players for performance, although the other violations the league is aware of were nowhere near the same level of what the Saints were doing.
“I think it’s fair to say that non-contract bonus payments have been happening throughout the league more frequently than we would like, and that is going to be discontinued,” Goodell said.
But other teams that had non-contract bonus payments didn’t go as far as the Saints did, and didn’t lie to the NFL repeatedly in the league’s investigation. And after the Saints’ repeated lies, Goodell doesn’t sound like he has any second thoughts about banning head coach Sean Payton for a full year.