During my 15 years in the NFL, including 11 years as a front-office executive, I dealt with NFL security on a yearly basis. Not because I was in trouble, but for background checks during the draft process. At the yearly NFL Combine, once the players arrive in Indianapolis and upon checking in and receiving their hotel room, they are greeted by NFL security representatives. All 300-plus participants fill out and sign a release form for a standard background check.
Like any other corporation in America, the NFL conducts this to see if there are any red flags prior to the prospects becoming professional football players. While all 32 teams spend thousands of dollars performing their own background checks, the goal is to find information on all players that the other teams may not have or receive, creating an uneven playing field.
Several days prior to the draft, each team’s security director makes a call to compare their findings to their own investigations. NFL security information helps in last-minute decisions on all players to clear red-flag issues or potentially take the player off the board. This process of double-checking with another source limits any major mistakes when it comes to character.
Once the player becomes a member of a NFL team, the NFL security department is at their disposal, and programs have been created that help players stay away from off-field issues if they decide to use their services. One of the programs established is called NFL Team-subsidized driving services. Several teams have sought out private and local companies that provide not only transportation to prevent DUI arrests, but also military trained bodyguards and retired law enforcement personnel to ensure incident-free nights on the town (restaurants, nightclubs or a night at the movies) to keep the player out of trouble and out of the negative spotlight. They also advise players and coaches, as well as Investigate potential threats to them or their families.
Many players have plenty of adoring, loving fans, but they also have their skeptics that want to challenge them during an evening out. NFL security will also check overseas travel situations prior to trips into foreign countries.
All NFL teams are required under NFL league by-laws to contract its own security team. The main focus of the clubs’ security team is to protect the members of the team from potential threats and they also serve to protect the players from themselves.
Like in other professional sports or walks of life, it’s not a big secret and is well documented that many NFL players have made both minor and major mistakes when in public. The scope of their behavior on or off the field is magnified tenfold in the public eye, which damages the image of the player and organization.
The NFL and its fans enjoyed a good season, several fantastic and unbelievable playoff games, all coming off an offseason of turmoil and a lockout. The season finished with a great Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants coming down to a Hail Mary pass on the final play. With the offseason moving smoothly, the conclusion of the yearly Combine and directing toward the NFL Draft, the NFL experienced an earthquake that has shaken the NFL landscape with several aftershocks to last a while in the way of an investigation of violation of “Bounty Rules.”
While the NFL security works with the clubs, and helps to protect the players, they also are no joke when it comes to a player, coach or organization stepping outside the guidelines of the by-laws of the National Football League. Most of these individuals have FBI, Secret Service and or Police Chief backgrounds, servicing many years in law enforcement.
Last Friday (March 2), the NFL security department disclosed that multiple defensive players from the New Orleans Saints, and at least one assistant coach, organized a “bounty” program funded primarily by the players in a violation of NFL rules that took place in a time period from 2009 to 2011.
After a lengthy investigation, the league office determined there was an improper “Pay for Performance” program including “bounty” payments to players for the intent to inflict injuries on opposing players that would result in them being knocked out of a game.”
NFL security has been interviewing and gathering information, and their findings that have been corroborated by several sources, including players (past and presently Saints), assistant coaches that remain on the job and those that are employed on other teams and just possibly a former employee and disgruntled Saints security director that was released from his duties and then opened the door to a Vicodin scandal within the Saints organization that was hushed up and swept under the carpet.
With Spygate behind us, and many still upset about the outcome of three Super Bowls, commissioner Roger Goodell will determine the appropriate discipline for the violators.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Goodell said. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.
“It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.”
Documentation proves that several players contributed cash into a pool and received improper cash payments (the IRS might have something to say about that). Many of the payments were made for big plays (interceptions, sacks, forced fumbles and recovery, etc.) and the program included “bounty” payments for “cart-offs” (the opposing player was carried off the field) and “knockouts” (meaning the opposing player could not finish the contest).
The investigation showed the pool reached up to $50,000-plus dollars during the 2009 Saints Super Bowl run. The NFL securities investigation included 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, including interviews from several individuals and with the help of outside forensic experts (I told you NFL security is no joke, and they’re well-connected as well) to verify the authenticity of key documents.
This dates back several years and was an issue at one time, or the NFL would not have put it n the by-laws as a rule prohibiting “Non-Contract Bonuses.” Non-contract bonuses violate both the NFL Constitution and By-Laws and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Prior to training camp each team is reminded and advised to speak with all players and organizations members. “No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team’s performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players).”
While the investigation began in early 2010, it was quietly finished and kept away from local and national media, but there is a small chance that the owner heard something was coming down the road. Early on allegations were put in front of several folks, in which all denied, proving it had become difficult for NFL Security and Goodell.
Here are some of the facts the NFL has:
1. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, players and several participants used their own money to fund a “Pay for Performance” program. Players earned cash awards for big plays and also earned “bounty” payments for “cart-offs” and “knockouts.”
2. Players participated in the bounty program, contributing and dumping in thousands of dollars. Between 22 and 27 defensive players contributed funds to the pool over the course of three NFL seasons. In some cases, the amounts pledged were both significant and directed against a specific opposing player.
3. Tom Benson (Saints owner) gave full cooperation to the investigators. The evidence conclusively established that Mr. Benson was not aware of the bounty program. Mr. Benson advised league staff that he had directed his general manager, Mickey Loomis, to discontinue the bounty program immediately. The evidence shows that Mr. Loomis did not carry out Mr. Benson’s directions (insubordination?). Similarly, when the initial allegations were discussed with Mr. Loomis in 2010, he denied any knowledge of a bounty program and pledged that he would ensure that no such program was in place. There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices.
4. Coach Sean Payton was not a direct participant in the funding or administration of the program, he was aware of the allegations, did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program. He never instructed his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was improper and could not continue. Why? When NFL security comes knocking at the door, answer it and ask how I can help you. While they are not the law in a legal sense of the word, they do uphold the by-laws of the NFL.
The ringleader of the bounty program was defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, funded the Bounty program on occasions. Mr. Williams was summoned to New York City to the NFL league office to continue talks with NFL security and others on his involvement not only with the New Orleans Saints, but his time spent at Tennessee, Washington and Buffalo.
My thoughts: If NFL security has enough proof of total involvement in a bounty program at every one of Williams’ coaching stops, he will receive a year ban from the NFL (loss of salary) and a fine. Will the Rams’ defensive coordinator lose his job? In my opinion, no. Once he serves his punishment, he should be cleared to return to his job with the Rams.
The commissioner will need to drop the hammer on this offseason distraction to make sure this behavior no longer exists in the future. And for the Saints, while neither the general manager or head coach is talking publicly (which is smart), they will receive fines along with the owner after all the dust clears, because of this embracing offseason distraction that all started down in the Bayou.