Senator calls hearing to examine bounties in NFL

HOWARD FENDRICH AP Pro Football Writer Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate wants to grill the NFL about bounties. And the NBA, NHL, NCAA and Major League Baseball are invited, too.

Sen. Dick Durbin is setting up a Judiciary Committee hearing about bounties in professional football and other major sports in the wake of news that New Orleans Saints players received extra cash for hits that hurt particular opponents.

The assistant Senate majority leader, an Illinois Democrat, said Thursday he wants to examine whether federal law should make such bounty systems a crime.

"Let's be real basic about it here. If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it's wrong). 'You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'" Durbin said in a telephone interview before raising the issue on the floor of the Senate.

"It goes way beyond the rules of any sporting contest, at least team contest, to intentionally inflict harm on another person for a financial reward," he said.

His announcement came a day after the NFL took a harsh stand on bounties, suspending Saints head coach Sean Payton for all of next season, and indefinitely banning their former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was barred for half of 2012, an assistant coach got a six-game ban, and the team also was docked two second-round draft picks and $500,000.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still needs to decide what penalties to give players who were involved in the Saints' scheme from 2009-11.

"I am encouraged by what the National Football League did. What they came down with as a penalty on the New Orleans Saints was decisive and historic," Durbin said, adding that he thought the league was "taking this very seriously."

But moving forward, the NFL and other leagues must "come up with standards to make sure this isn't going to happen again," he said. Otherwise, lawmakers will need to "at least explore whether it is necessary to have federal legislation in this area."

One possibility, Durbin explained, would be to extend federal sports bribery laws to cover bounties, so that "if someone offers in a team sports situation some sort of value, money or otherwise, to intentionally hurt another player, that, in fact, would be a crime."

In an email to the AP, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote: "Commissioner Goodell has taken strong action to ensure that bounties are eliminated from the NFL. We have not heard from Senator Durbin but would be pleased to discuss the matter with him."

Under the bounty system overseen in New Orleans by Williams -- who was hired in January by the St. Louis Rams -- the targeted players included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.

According to the league, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings QB Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game.

Durbin isn't sure when the hearing will happen, but he said it could be two to three weeks from now.