"I think everyone [including players] bears responsibility"… (Jim Mone / Associated Press )
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he plans to announce punishments soon for the New Orleans Saints players involved in the improper pay-for-performance bounty program, and rejected the notion those players were simply doing what their coaches told them.
"I don’t buy that, because the evidence is quite clear that the players embraced this," Goodell said in an interview with NFL Network's Rich Eisen. "They enthusiastically embraced it. They put the vast majority of the money into the program and they actually are the ones playing the game. They are on the field so I don’t think they are absolved from any responsibility because of that. I think everyone bears responsibility here."
The league has already imposed severe sanctions on Saints Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis, suspending them for a year and eight games, respectively. And former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been banned from the league indefinitely.
To this point, however, the 22 to 27 players involved have not been punished. Those include linebacker and team captain Jonathan Vilma, who promised $10,000 cash to any of his teammates who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC championship game.
"I hope to reach those decisions very soon," Goodell said of the player sanctions. "We have been continuing our work. We have continued to talk to players and other people that can give us a perspective. Once we have got all the information and we feel that we are in a position to be able to issue the fairest and most thorough types of decisions, we will do that but I expect to do that soon because this is a big element to me.
"This is player on player and what we want to do is make sure that people understand that there needs to be respect for players that play the game, and that needs to start with players against players. We made it clear what we expect from the coaches and executives and clubs that these types of activities should not be occurring and that they need to do their part, but the players need to do their part with each other, and that starts with respecting each other."
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Roger Goodell says Saints players 'embraced' bounty program