The National Football League’s (NFL) “bounty” scandal spread on Saturday with media reports that Washington Redskins players also had a cash scheme to reward individuals who injured opponents and forced them to leave games.
The reports followed Friday’s announcement by the NFL that an investigation into the New Orleans Saints defence over the past three years had found an illegal “bounty” fund was operated by then defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams.
Williams was defensive co-ordinator of the Washington Redskins between 2004 and 2007 and the Washington Post said four players had described the informal system to the newspaper.
The payments, raised from players’ own funds not team bonuses, included rewards for “kill shots” where the injured player was taken out of the game, the Post said.
The Redskins declined to comment on the reports.
However, Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Redskins at the time, told the Post he was unaware of the practice.
“I would never ask a player to hurt another player. Never,” Gibbs told the newspaper.
Matt Bowen, a strong safety with the Redskins during Williams’ time as defensive co-ordinator, said in a column for the Chicago Tribune that bounties were common practice at the team.
“Prices were set on Saturday nights in the team hotel,” wrote Bowen.
“In a makeshift meeting room, with the whisper of evening traffic pouring in from the Beltway, we laid our bounties on opposing players. We targeted big names, our sights set on taking them out of the game,” he added.
Bowen said the money was collected via fines for lateness and mistakes throughout the season and was distributed for making key contributions.
“We got paid for big hits, clean hits by the rule book,” he said.
“Money came in for more than watching a guy leave the field. We earned extra for interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles.
“I don’t regret any part of it. I can’t,” he said. “Williams is the best coach I ever played for in my years in the NFL, a true teacher who developed me as a player. I believed in him. I still do. That will never change.”
The NFL announced the findings of its investigation into the Saints in a sign the league is keen to improve its image in the wake of lawsuits from former players over concussion injuries.
Asked whether the league would investigate the Redskins, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail:
“We are not going to comment on the reports but we will be addressing the issues raised as part of our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of the game”.
League commissioner Roger Goodell was critical of the Saints’ scheme and is weighing up options for punishing those involved.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance’, but also for injuring opposing players,” Goodell said on Friday.
Williams confirmed the Saints had used the “bounty” system.
“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it,” Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, said on Friday.
“I take full responsibility for my role.”
Several players and former players have indicated that informal reward systems, which break the NFL’s rules, are widespread.
Between the Redskins and the Saints, Williams spent a season as defensive co-ordinator with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Florida Times Union said two sources had told them Williams did not run a bounty scheme at the north Florida team.
Former New York Jets offensive lineman Damien Woody was one of several current and former players who said they were not surprised by the reports.
“This ‘bounty’ program happens all around the league... not surprising,” Woody wrote on Twitter.
“The bigger question with the bounty issue is - who snitched?”