In the days since the players’ suspensions in the league’s bounty investigation were voided, the league has stated that “the panel did not take issue with any findings that were made in the course of the investigation”. Also, a number of the league’s supporters have begun talking again about the “indisputable proof” presented. So it seems about time that someone takes issue with the investigation’s findings and show just how disputable they are. The following is a breakdown of every piece of evidence made public in the bounty investigation and an explanation for how each one is either highly questionable, misrepresented or just flat out false.
The Sean Payton Statements
Sean Payton has made two statements with regard to the alleged bounty investigation. One is a joint statement with General Manager Mickey Loomis and the other is a statement from Payton alone. First was the joint statement which went as follows:
We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility.
This has brought undue hardship on Mr. Benson, who had nothing to do with this activity. He has been nothing but supportive and for that we both apologize to him.
These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game. Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans.
Mickey Loomis & Sean Payton
The wording of the statement clearly refers to “violations” not bounties. The NFL’s findings in part outlined the pay-for-performance program that has been admitted to by a number of members of the organization. Pay-for-performance is not the same as pay-to-injure. The violations Payton and Loomis are referring to in this statement are the exact same ones that have been admitted to by others: pay-for-performance.
Payton’s individual statement reads:
I share and fully support the League’s concerns and goals on player safety. It is, and should be paramount. Respecting our great game and the NFL shield is extremely important to me. Our organization will implement all necessary protections and protocols, and I will be more vigilant going forward. I am sorry for what has happened and as head coach take full responsibility. Finally, I want to thank Mr. Benson, our players and all Saints fans for their overwhelming support.
Head Coach Sean Payton New Orleans Saints
Again, there is no admission of anything to do with bounties. It simply discusses the league’s safety movement and again apologizes for what has happened, or as he said in the first statement, the “violations”.
The Gregg Williams Statements
Gregg Williams has also given two statements regarding the alleged bounty investigation. The first statement came around the time of the initial announcement of the investigation in the beginning of March.
I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.
Notice that Williams very clearly states he participated in a “pay for performance” program. He also never admitted to taking part in any bounty program in his second statement issued shortly after the penalties for the coaches, Loomis, and the Saints organization were handed down. It reads:
I’d like to again apologize wholeheartedly to the NFL, Coach Fisher, the entire Rams organization and all football fans for my actions. Furthermore, I apologize to the players of the NFL for my involvement as it is not a true reflection of my values as a father or coach, nor is it reflective of the great respect I have for this game and its core principle of sportsmanship. I accept full responsibility for my actions. I highly value the 23 years that I’ve spent in the NFL. I will continue to cooperate fully with the league and its investigation and I will focus my energies on serving as an advocate for both player safety and sportsmanship. I will do everything possible to re-earn the respect of my colleagues, the NFL and its players in hopes of returning to coaching in the future.
The Pamphilon Recording
For all the uproar and feigned outrage at this recording, this was all an extremely overblown event. While some former players chose to speak out loudly about the contents of Williams’ speech to the Saints’ defense before their Divisional Playoff Game against the 49ers this past season, others have come out saying this speech is nothing they haven’t heard before. Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler & former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce have stated they have heard speeches like this for many years from many coaches. Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross reacted by saying that anyone surprised by the speech was “clueless about the game.”
As for the targeting of injuries, this is not something new in the NFL. Only a few weeks before the Williams audio came out, Giants special-teamers Devin Thomas and Jacquian Williams admitted to targeting 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams. This is the same 49ers player and the same injury that people were outraged by when Gregg Williams talked about testing his injury. There was barely a word said about the Giants targeting injuries and there certainly were no bounty investigations.
The Anthony Hargrove Declaration
At first look, Hargrove’s declaration seems pretty damning. However, it’s only damning if you assume there actually was a bounty program. When you look at it in the context of what every member of the Saints organization has been saying all along it makes perfect sense and is 100% true. Payton, Loomis, Williams and numerous players have said that there was a pay-for-performance program but no pay-to-injure program. League investigators came to the team wanting to interview members of the Saints organization about a bounty program. Williams and Joe Vitt recommended Hargrove tell the league there was no bounty or bounty program. This was not asking Hargrove to lie. This was actually keeping him honest. He did not state that no money had changed hands and he did not say there were no wagers made among the players or coaches. Those statements would have been lies due to the pay-for-performance system that was in place. The statement Hargrove made allowed him to honestly deny the existence of the bounty program the league was investigating and not lie about a pay-for-performance program the league was not investigating. Williams and Loomis actually kept Hargrove honest and protected him in case the pay-for-performance program ever did get investigated.
As for the accusation by the league that Hargrove admitted the existence of an alleged bounty to former Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, Kennedy himself has said no such conversation ever occurred. Kennedy has no reason to lie since he was not accused of anything and he was on the Vikings team that missed out on going to the Super Bowl as a result of the game the investigation was centering around. If anything, Kennedy has every reason in the world to tell the truth if he knew anything about an alleged bounty.
Aside from the statements made within, the declaration itself as presented by the NFL raises a few interesting questions. For example, each paragraph in the statement was numbered, but paragraph 6 seems to be missing. What happened to this paragraph? Also, the font of paragraph 13 is different from the rest of the statement. Why is this paragraph a significantly different font size than the rest of the document? Neither question has ever been answered.
On June 1st, reports came out that the NFL had in its possession a ledger containing records of the Saints’ bounty payments. However, the credibility of the ledger lasted less than a day. In the initial reports, it was stated that the supposed ledger showed three $1,000 payouts for the 2009 Buffalo Bills game. The problem with that report is that no Bills players left that game due to injury. Shortly after this fact came out the story was changed to three $1,000 payouts during the 2009 Carolina Panthers game. However, this story also does not add up. Between both games between the Saints & Panthers in 2009, only one Panthers player left either game. That one player was LB Thomas Davis and his injury did not come on a special teams play, therefore no Saints defensive player could have benefited from his leaving the game. To this day, the actual ledger has never been produced and no further reports of its contents have come out since the first two reports were proven fraudulent.
The Appeals Hearing
Following the appeals hearing at the league offices in New York City, Goodell decided to hold a meeting with the press and show them the proof he intended to use in the hearing. It was less than impressive. While Exhibits 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13 & 14 contain quite a bit of proof of the pay-for-performance program that was admitted to, there is nothing even close to proof of a pay-to-injure program as well as no references to “cart-offs” or “bounties”. Exhibits 15 & 16 did not even exist when the penalties for all involved were handed down. So let’s focus on the rest of the exhibits.
Exhibit 2: The Ornstein Email
This exhibit is an email from Mike Ornstein to Gregg Williams. The email reads “(Expletive) I gave you 1500 last week, I will give you another 1500 the next 4 game, and the final 2000 the last 4.” There is absolutely no reference to bounties or pay-for-performance anywhere in this email. In fact, there is no indication as to what this money was for at all other than it has something to do with the games. This money could just as easily be for tickets or a suite that Williams had access to. Perhaps Williams was helping provide Ornstein access to the team against the wishes of Tom Benson and the money was compensation. There are any number of explanations that fit this email that have nothing to do with bounties.
Exhibit 3: The Mike Karney slide
As stated earlier, there is no evidence at all in exhibit of “bounties”, “cart-offs”, or pay-to-injure. However, there is a slide in this exhibit that one reporter has misrepresented as proof of a bounty on former Saints fullback Mike Karney. There is no indication of a bounty on Karney anywhere in the slide or the entire exhibit for that matter. The slide contains no mention of money or targeting him. What the slide does contain is statistics showing that the St. Louis Rams were actually worse with Karney in the game. Why would the Saints want to take out a player that made their opponent worse? The idea simply makes no sense.
Exhibit 5: The Roman Harper “cart-off”
A PowerPoint slide from a defensive team meeting following the game against the New York Giants in 2009 claims Roman Harper earned $1,000 for a “cart-off.” The problem with this claim is that Roman Harper did not take anyone out of that game. There were only two injuries to the Giants’ offense in that game according to the play-by-play breakdown of the game on both the NFL’s & ESPN’s websites. The first was Brandon Jacobs. Around the 8:00 minute mark in the 2nd quarter he was taken down on a solo tackle by Darren Sharper (not Harper). He left the field and was later reported to have a stinger according to the USA Today article written the day after the game. Jacobs would later return to the game. Harper was in no way involved with the tackle. According to the stat sheet, all of Sharper’s tackles were solo. I was also able to account for all of Harper’s tackles listed elsewhere on the play-by-play. Clearly, any injury Jacobs incurred on that play was from Sharper, not Harper. The only other injury during the game was Kareem McKenzie who injured himself by stepping on a loose ball following an Eli Manning sack-fumble with about 27 seconds left in the first half.
Exhibit 9: The “Dog the Bounty Hunter” slide
Apparently the league and its investigators decided to pick and choose what fit their narrative with this exhibit. The league points to a slide from before the 2010 Wildcard Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks that includes a picture of Dog the Bounty Hunter and the words “Now its time to do our job…collect bounty$$$!” These two things were not the only things on the slide however, despite the fact that the league tends to ignore everything else. The same slide also contains a picture of a person in the crosshairs of a sniper scope, but Goodell has not launched an investigation to look for snipers in the rafters of the Superdome. One of the other lines on the slide says “Armed and dangerous?” yet the league has not felt it necessary to frisk players as they walk onto the field. “Must suspect be delivered dead or alive?” No player has ever left the field of the Superdome or any other NFL stadium in a body bag. So why does the league choose to take this one line and this one picture seriously but nothing else on the slide?
The truth of this slide is simple to understand when you look at it as a whole. The actual words written on the slide are a detailed description of preparing to take down a fugitive. A coach looking to talk to his players about the importance of preparation to defeat an opposing offense could easily draw a comparison with the detailed preparation outlined on the slide. Through thorough, detailed preparation paired with doing their job of shutting down the opposing offense, a team can collect a W. It’s all basic motivational speaking.
Exhibit 10: The Favre Bounty note transcript
For this exhibit, the league presented a transcript of a hand-written note they claim to have found regarding the amounts of several contributions to a bounty on the head of Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. The first problem with this exhibit is that in three different places it is noted that parts of the original note were illegible, including part of the title. This means two things. First, if they were unable to transcribe parts of this note, then we obviously do not know everything that was written. Second, if there were parts of this note that could not be read by the person transcribing it and it was all in the same handwriting, how much confidence can be had in the transcription? Without being able to see the original note for ourselves, there is no way to know for sure.
Perhaps a more troubling problem with this exhibit though is the accuracy of the information the league does present. The note states that Vilma, Charles Grant and Ornstein each allegedly contributed $10,000 to the Favre bounty and Vitt allegedly contributed $5,000. The first problem with this is the Vitt contribution. According to Vitt’s lawyer David Cornwell, “the NFL has never, in multiple written communications and in three face-to-face meetings, accused Coach Vitt of putting money into the program.” Also Jeff Miller, NFL V.P. of Security, stated that the league didn’t have any reason to believe Vitt was contributing money to the pool. So if even the league’s own statements are implying that part of this exhibit is false, how can any of it be trusted?
Then there is the issue of the Ornstein contribution. Previously the league claimed Ornstein offered up $5,000 on the head of Aaron Rodgers for the 2011 season opener by email. That email was sent from the federal prison in Florence, CO while Ornstein was still incarcerated. So unless he was going to FedEx five grand worth of cigarettes to the Saints facility or offer to work off the debt by shanking people for the winner, there’s no way the $5,000 could have been a serious offer. Ornstein stated his comment was part of a running joke stemming from the league’s false belief in a Favre bounty. If the league had this proof that there was a Favre bounty and Ornstein was involved, why would they keep it hidden rather than use it to call him out as a liar and prove his involvement in both bounties?
The next problem is the amount of the bounty. From the very beginning of the league’s accusations they have repeatedly stated that Vilma put up a $10,000 bounty on Favre. If they had this note all along, if they believed the full bounty was $35,000, and if they believed there were actually four people in on it, why was there not one word about any of it other than Vilma until almost July? Finally, does the league have anything to back up this note since it is at least partially inaccurate according to the statements of the league’s own V.P of Security?
The Anthony Hargrove Video
According to the NFL’s original claim, this video allegedly showed Hargrove on the sidelines of the 2009 NFC Championship Game saying “Bobby, give me my money.” Finally after two weeks of public denials and a voice recognition test, the NFL finally acknowledged that the voice on the video was not that of Hargrove. In an attempt to save face the league then claimed “The identity of the player who made the statement was immaterial” to the penalties handed down. They claim that the video provides proof that Hargrove and others had full knowledge of a bounty program operating within the Saints organization. That is where the league is wrong.
One problem with this video is the statement itself. “Bobby, give me my money.” If this statement were a request to be paid on an alleged bounty on Favre, why would the person speaking ask Bobby McCray for the bounty? According to the league’s own evidence, no part of the alleged bounty of $35,000 bounty came from McCray. Nothing in the league’s evidence indicates McCray was named team bounty treasurer. Most confusing of all, why would anyone be telling McCray to pay up on the alleged bounty when McCray was the player who hit Favre in the first place and would be the one getting paid? So why would anyone be asking him to pay up on the alleged Favre bounty? It simply makes no sense.
Another problem with this video is that there is no idea who actually made the statement and to who it was made. At the time the words “Bobby give me my money” are heard, nobody’s mouth can be seen moving. The league obviously did not perform a voice analysis on the players that would have been involved in that discussion on the sidelines. There is also no list in the league’s evidence accounting for what other coaches, team personnel, league personnel, media members, etc. were in the immediate area, any of whom could have made that comment to someone other than a player in a completely unrelated conversation. There are a lot of possible explanations that the league never bothered to look into.
To read the alternate theory of Bountygate, click here.