Not that anyone expected him to change his mind, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was firm Saturday, insisting the Saints operated a pay-to-injure program.
Goodell spoke to a small group of reporters including Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune while at a Pee Wee football event in Akron, and said the evidence he gathered made it clear there was a bounty system and a clear plan to cover it up.
“Well, the No. 1 thing is when you reward players for injuring other opponents, that’s a bounty,” Goodell said. “That’s not pay for performance, that’s a bounty. And that’s what the players and, I believe, [Saints linebackers] Coach [Joe] Vitt said occurred. And that’s what our evidence indicates. So when you’re doing that, anything that would target or reward people for injuring other players, that’s not part of football. “That’s not what we’re teaching these kids, and it’s not what we’re going to do in the NFL.”
Goodell denied that the Saints and the league are involved in a stand-off that comes down to definitions, saying that terms such as “cart-offs” and “whacks” are clear.
“That’s not semantics,” Goodell said. “They understand the rules. When you reward somebody for injuring somebody — and the only way you cart off somebody is when they’re injured. So that’s an injury. So when you do that, that’s not semantics.”
“We also have evidence that players were targeted, as we’ve indicated to you all and told you.”
Goodell said the league also has more evidence than has been shared with the media so far, and that the Saints could have mitigated some of the damage if they have cooperated with the initial investigation after the 2009 season.
“Sure, the fact that they said it didn’t happen and they continued to do it is certainly a big issue,” Goodell said.
Goodell’s in Ohio for today’s Hall of Fame ceremony, and said he had no plans to meet with Saints players or coaches prior to tomorrow’s Hall of Fame Game, since he’s leaving town tonight.