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New Orleans Saints Run a Pay-to-Injure Scheme

Drew Brees (No. 9) of the New Orleans Saints makes a hand-off against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. Brees has said that the only questions he gets asked these days are about the bounty scandal.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The most tragic cheating scandals are not the ones where people lose games or lose money, but where players intentionally harm other players in the name of winning. The Tonya Harding scandal falls into this category, but even more brutal was the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, which broke in March 2012.

After an investigation, the National Football League (NFL) said that from 2009 to 2011, certain players received bonus pay for intentionally harming the opposing team on the field. Players on the team and Gregg Williams, the Saints' defensive coordinator, threw their money together to cover these bonuses [source: ESPN]. The most well-known bounty was a $10,000 reward for taking out Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre [source: CBS News]. However, Favre told reporters that he didn't see enough evidence to convict [source: Sporting News].

The NFL found that players Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith were the ringleaders, but as many as 27 Saints were involved. The NFL suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season, but Smith only was suspended for four games. Fujita was suspended for three games, but in October 2012 the NFL reduced that to just one, and then it reduced Hargrove's suspension from eight games to seven [source: Keating]. The players denied they deliberately injured their opponents, but confirmed that a pool of money existed to reward performance [source: CBS News]. All players appealed their suspensions. In Dec. 2012, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was put in charge of the appeals process vacated all their punishments.

Coach Williams signed an affidavit admitting to designing the bounty scheme and is currently suspended indefinitely from the NFL [source: Holder]. He too is appealing his lifetime ban. The NFL fined the Saints franchise the maximum penalty of $500,000 and stripped them of their second-round draft picks for 2012 and 2013.

The scandal strongly affected the New Orleans Saints' 2012 season. Between the suspensions and general suspicion, the team struggled throughout the year [source: California].

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