by jordan blum
Advocate Washington bureau
July 18, 2012
WASHINGTON — Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin said Wednesday he is no longer considering holding a congressional hearing regarding the New Orleans Saints alleged bounty program after meeting in the U.S. Capitol with the NFL commissioner.
In turn, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL will add a “bounties section” to the NFL Players Handbook and create an anonymous hotline for players to confidentially report bounties and other issues.
Durbin commended Goodell and the NFL for discovering the bounty problems within the Saints organization and aggressively investigating and punishing those involved.
“Some people question, ‘Well, what does Congress have to do with this?’” said Durbin, D-Ill. “It is a federal crime to bribe someone to influence the outcome of a professional sport event. This (Saints) bounty program was as close as bribery to influence the outcome of an event as I could think of. It seemed an appropriate place for a congressional inquiry at a minimum.”
The key issues are upholding player safety, protecting the integrity of the sport and making it clear to young people who idolize athletes that this kind of bounty behavior is unacceptable, said Durbin, who had previously said he was interested in having a congressional hearing on the matter.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called the meeting a pointless publicity stunt in a prepared statement before the event.
“First and foremost I stand with Who Dat nation — we all want to move on from all this, sign Drew Brees, and begin our Super Bowl run next year,” Vitter said. “And like almost every fan I know, I certainly don’t believe the federal government should involve itself in sports to chase headlines, especially when we have a flat-lined economy and a scary $16 trillion debt crisis to tackle.
“Sen. Durbin and Roger Goodell both have more pressing matters than this public relations stunt.”
Although Goodell has said he favors adding two games to the 16-game NFL regular season, he has repeatedly cited the need for player safety as more lawsuits stemming from evidence regarding football-related concussions and brain damage have arisen.
“The integrity of our game and the safety of our players is paramount,” Goodell said Wednesday. “Bounties are not a part of football. We don’t believe they should be a part of sports.”
As for the Saints, the NFL found the Saints had a bounty program dating to the Super Bowl-winning 2009 season that paid defensive players for injuring opponents during games. Those within the Saints organization have contended there were no efforts to actually injure people and that the bounty program only involved big plays and hits.
Saints coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is suing the NFL for defamation, are suspended for the full 2012 season. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely.
Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt and three other players, including current Saints defensive end Will Smith, are suspended for multiple games. Vitt on Wednesday said he called Goodell to volunteer to take a lie-detector test. Vitt said he never paid out any money after the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings. Former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was hurt during the game, although he finished playing in it.
On Monday, the NFL released evidence against the players, including a video clip in which former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove supposedly said, “Give me the money,” regarding hurting Favre. Hargrove was fined $5,000 for a hit on Favre in the game. Hargrove said it was someone else who made the statement, although he claimed he did not know who said it.
Goodell said Wednesday he believes the players and coaches involved are receiving full due process.