By Quinn Sloan
“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head. Little 32, we want to knock the f*** out of him. He has no idea what he’s in for.”
This chilling audio comes from former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in a defensive team meeting on Jan 13, 2012. Williams proceeds to insinuate that there is a cash reward for taking Gore out of the game. Here we see evidence of one of the most shameful scandals in sports history – Bountygate.
The NFL is a hard-hitting league. Because of this, players may end up injured. Most of the time these injuries are due to incidental contact, accidental collisions. However, from 2009 to (allegedly) 2011 season, coach Williams had put in place a bounty system, where players would receive cash rewards for injuring opponents. The bigger the game and the bigger the target, the greater the reward.
The league has long been opposed to the system of non-contract bonuses based on play, but rarely did the league see this sort of blatant disregard for the safety and health of other players and teams.
Bountygate Investigation Ensues
In 2012, Saints defensive assistant Mike Cerullo contacted the NFL about the bounty program going on in the New Orleans organization. This marked the beginning of the league’s investigation of the team.
Cerullo also testified that he kept track of payments and pledges made to the team.
Cerullo, who came forward as the whistleblower, was viewed as a snitch on the team. He later reported that he was angry he got fired from the Saints and was looking to get back at the team by reporting them.
The ensuing investigation found the New Orleans Saints led to irrefutable evidence that a program was indeed in place. This program varied in payoffs, from $100 to any special teams player who downed a punt inside the 20-yard line to $1500 for knocking another player out of the game due to injuries. These payments would increase due to magnitude of the game, severity of the injury, and talent of the hurt player.
It was discovered that the payment plan guaranteed a max payment of $10,000 for injuring superstar quarterbacks in the playoffs such as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.
Interestingly enough, in each of the three seasons where evidence for Bountygate is found, the New Orleans Saints were in the top five teams in roughing the passer penalties. This is surely a result of the payment promised for injury.
The League Publishes its Findings
Players and coaches around the league began to raise concerns about whether their players were targeted in the Bountygate program. Chicago Bears players and fans believed their team was victimized in a 2011 game against the Saints. In the game, quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked 6 times and was seriously injured when he was kicked in the throat.
All of these teams felt vindicated when the results of the investigation proved the Saints were targeting players. Players called it “some dirty stuff,” as one Bears offensive lineman witnessed on the field.
Many fines and suspensions were handed down from the league. Williams himself received an indefinite suspension – this was later lifted just over a year later. Now, Williams is the defensive coordinator with the New York Jets.
At this point, the suspensions have expired and the players and coaches are back where they once were. However, the stench of Bountygate will follow Williams and some of the players wherever they go.