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Saints go marching in -- straight to the NFL's costly doghouse

"Winning is everything" is just a slogan, something the NFL just taught the New Orleans Saints and Coach Sean Payton in a very costly lesson
They're called the Saints. But they weren't, and now they're paying for it.

Watching the mayhem of National Football League games every week, you might not think so, but the NFL actually wants to keep its players safe -- safe being a relative term, of course, for a game in which the infliction of pain is a central element.

But when it emerged that the New Orleans Saints were actually paying players for hits that injured opponents, the news hit the sports world like a blitzing linebacker.

On Wednesday, the league turned the tables on the franchise, hammering it for its "pay-for-performance" bounty system:

The league has suspended Saints Coach Sean Payton without pay for the entire 2012 season; Saints GM Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the upcoming season; and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- now with the St. Louis Rams -- indefinitely.

The Saints, who have been fined $500,000, also must forfeit their second-round picks in both the 2012 and 2013 drafts.

Joe Vitt, New Orleans’ linebackers coach and assistant head coach, was a potential interim replacement for Payton, but he was also suspended for six games for his part in the scandal and subsequent coverup. ...

The Saints were found to be paying players -- from a cash pool made up of contributions of players, Williams and others -- for injuring opponents. The rewards included $1,000 for causing an opponent to be carted off the field, and $1,500 for a knockout.

Now, there are those who will say that the punishment doesn't fit the crime -- because, they say, there wasn't any crime. They argue that injuring opponents, or at least intimidating them with physical play, is part of the game. 

These are the folks who decry every rule change intended to protect players with the taunt “Why don’t you just put dresses on them.”

I have a word for that argument: Baloney.

Football is a game. Yes, it involves physical contact. Yes, injuries occur -- often.

But there must be -- and there are -- limits. Regardless of the comparisons, NFL games are not gladiatorial matches. 

It’s bad enough that the game is now so violent that most of its players end up with life-altering injuries.

But what the Saints did clearly crossed a line that should never be crossed, in any sport. Not only that, but when warned about the program, the franchise -- did nothing.  

As The Times’ Sam Farmer reported:

One of the reasons the penalties are so severe is that the league had instructed the Saints to dismantle the program, and they did not.

Yes, grown men play this game, and they are well paid for it. But these men will play for a very short time. They have families. They have a right to a life after football.

"Winning is everything" is just a saying. It's not meant to be taken literally.

Something the Saints, deservedly, just found out.

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-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: New Orleans Coach Sean Payton. Credit: John G. Mabanglo / EPA

 

 

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