Could Criminal Charges Be Coming For The Saints?
After reporting the punishments handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to those involved in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, those suspended team personnel appealed the suspensions, and I elaborated on why they are unlikely to succeed in doing so. Though the 22 to 27 players reportedly involved in the bounty system will have to wait to see if they face suspension, there could potentially be an even bigger problem shadowing them–and the team personnel–as this situation progress.
They may face criminal charges.
On Monday, April 2nd, ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio–a former lawyer–discussed the possibilities of those involved in the Saints’ bounty scandal facing criminal charges, and what those charges would likely be. Florio states that he, “Doesn’t know how realistic it is to be concerned–at this time–with the possibility of criminal charges, but there are some criminal charges out there to at least consider.”
For starters, Florio discusses the idea of assault and battery. By United States legal definition, assault is the attempt or intent to commit a battery, which is actually causing physical harm. However, football is a violent sport by design, so normal physical contact during play would not warrant a criminal charge of assault and battery.
According to Florio, the physical contact during play, “Even if it’s a penalty, it’s still football. We see low hits, late hits, unnecessary roughness. We see that stuff all the time.” He then talks about what would “cross the line” which would be Albert Haynesworth’s stomping incident in 2006, which actually had people calling the prosecutor’s office in Nashville, Tennessee.
Now, it may be hard to prove an actual incident of assault and battery in the Saints’ case, because unlike the Haynesworth incident, it doesn’t appear to contain evidence of illegal activity that is, “Clearly after the whistle [and] clearly beyond any reasonable football activity,” according to Florio.
Instead, a charge on conspiracy to commit assault and battery would be more likely to hold up. “This is a law very easily broken, even if there is no actual involvement, no actual conduct that separately crosses the line,” states Florio. The “broad conspiracy” in this case could conclude that the Saints were conducting criminal activity. “The idea that you are enticing people to try to injure other people, in exchange for payment of money,” continues Florio, “that is something that could cause a zealous prosecutor to go out and try to get indictments under federal or state law arguing that there has been a conspiracy.”
Realistically, if a “zealous prosecutor” does want to pursue this route, it is very possible that those indictments could turn into convictions in a court of law. Now, I don’t have any experience in law, but by the definition of criminal conspiracy, and the fact that the NFL investigation uncovered evidence of a three-year bounty system that promised payouts to players, it would appear hard-pressed for the prosecution not to win in court. According to the NFL investigation, the Saints bounty system included payouts of $1,500 for “knockouts” and $1,000 for “cart-offs” while also finding evidence of a $10,000 bounty on Brett Favre and a $5,000 bounty on Aaron Rodgers. The thing to remember is that these are not allegations; these are, according to the NFL, “findings in the league’s investigation, corroborated by multiple independent sources, conclusively establish[ing]” allegations as facts.
Lastly, there is the charge of tax evasion, which goes back to the payments for “knockouts” and “cart-offs” (but not for the bounties on Favre and Rodgers since neither was knocked out of the respective games they were targeted in). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could charge players that they find received bounty payments, and never claimed the money they received on their tax forms, with tax evasion.
What has made the talk of criminal charges against players in the Saints’ bounty scandal heat up recently is the fact that the players union has hinted at the possibility.
The Associated Press reports that, “The NFL Players Association has told players involved in [the bounty case] there’s a chance they could face criminal charges and it has hired outside counsel.” The fact that the NFLPA has advised players to have a lawyer and union representative present when questioned by league investigators could simply be an act of extreme precaution for the players in this case, or it could imply wanting the players to watch what they say and not give away any information that may be incriminating. But just because league investigators are currently meeting with players doesn’t mean that, if federal investigators/prosecutors do get involved, the union wouldn’t give the players the same recommendation.
It seems that, even after the initial fallout from the Saints’ bounty scandal, this whole case is still far from over. With unprecedented and league-altering punishments already stemming from this scandal, more appear likely to follow. The fact that the federal government could get involved implies serious implications for one of the biggest sports scandals in history. While this offseason’s hottest story continues to catch fire, it’s just a matter of time before it dies down, and the true effects it will have are revealed.