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NFL: Officials get tough as Payton receives one-year ban

Roger Goodell is serious. In a bid to reinforce the NFL's hard line on player safety, the league's commissioner has severely punished the New Orleans Saints for their "pay-for-performance" bounty system over the past three seasons.

The system awarded cash to players for targeting and hitting certain opponents.

Goodell suspended head coach Sean Payton without pay for the entire 2012 season (his contract is worth $7m (€5.3m) a year; former Saints and current St Louis Rams defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely; Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.

The Saints, who won the Super Bowl in 2009, were also fined $500,000 (€380,000) and were stripped of their second-round draft picks for both this and next year.

"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," Goodell said.

"We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines this."

Saints players supplied their own cash, contributing to a pool where it was paid out to reward hits on opponents. Defensive players were paid $1,500 for "knockouts" and $1,000 for "cart-offs," as they targeted opposition stars.

Their rewards doubled during the play-offs, and reached as high as $50,000 during their 2009 championship season.

The harsh penalty is in line with league rules, but is also part of the NFL's bid to curb the risk of concussion. They are dealing with 39 lawsuits from 850 former players claiming the NFL failed in the past to protect its athletes.

The NFL is also eager to stamp out bounty systems as it battles a perception that the sport, whilst increasingly popular, is becoming more dangerous for the players.

"I'm starting to question do I want my kids to play football at all," two-time NFL MVP and bounty target Kurt Warner said this week. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent