NEW: Saints leaders apologize to the team's owner for "undue hardship"
Team's head coach, general manager say bounty program happened on their watch
"We understand the negative impact it has had on our game," they say
NBA's Charles Barkley says he once offered a basketball bounty
The New Orleans Saints admitted Tuesday to paying bonuses for hits that would knock opposing players out of a game, vowing the practice won’t be repeated.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis said they take “full responsibility” for the practice, which they said “happened under our watch.”
“These are serious violations, and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game,” Loomis and Payton said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.
“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.”
The National Football League reported Friday that the Saints paid defensive players a bounty for injuring opponents, as well as making interceptions and fumble recoveries, during the 2009-2011 seasons. The program involved as many as 27 players and at least one assistant coach, the league concluded.
The league said the program was administered by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, with knowledge of other coaches. Players regularly contributed cash to a pool, which may have topped $50,000 at its peak.
The players were paid $1,500 for a “knockout,” when an opposing player was not able to return to the game, and $1,000 for a “cart-off,” when an opposing player had to be carried off the field. In some cases, particular players on the opposing team were targeted, the NFL said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has received the results of the investigation and will decide on discipline, which could include fines, suspensions and forfeiture of draft choices.
Saints owner Tom Benson said Monday the team cooperated with investigation and called the findings “troubling.” In their statement, Payton and Loomis said they were sorry for the “undue hardship” the violations had caused Benson, “who had nothing to do with this activity.”
In a statement released Friday, Williams called the bounties “a terrible mistake” that he knew was wrong.
“Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it,” Williams, now a defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, said in a statement quoted by the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. “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.”
The disclosure has ignited controversy among football fans nationwide – and Tuesday, former NBA star Charles Barkley said he had taken part in a bounty program during his basketball playing days in the 1980s.
Barkley, now a commentator for CNN sister network TNT, said in an online interview that he had called on teammates to knock out an opposing player whose team was beating Barkley’s Philadelphia 76ers by a 30-point margin. He put the bounty amount at $5,000 but would not identify the player or opposing team.
“We were getting beat by 30 or 40, I can’t remember,” he told interviewer Dan Patrick. “This guy was shooting threes and running up and down the court. I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to hurt that guy right there.’ “
Barkley added that “people are clearly going to overreact to the bounty thing,” which he said should have stayed among the players.
CNN’s Joe Sutton contributed to this report.