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Saints pay the price for "bounties"

New Orleans Saints head coach Payton looks on as his team took on St. Louis Rams during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in New
New Orleans Saints head coach Payton looks on as his team took on St. Louis Rams during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in New

By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl winning head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for a year without pay by the National Football League (NFL) after an investigation into "bounty" schemes which rewarded players for hurting opponents.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was also suspended, indefinitely, while the team was fined $500,000 and will forfeit their selections in the second round of the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts.

"Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement on Wednesday.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended without pay for the first eight games of the upcoming regular season while assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games.

The league said they had yet to decide on punishments for players involved in the scheme.

"Beyond the clear and continuing violations of league rules, and lying to investigators, the bounty program is squarely contrary to the league's most important initiatives - enhancing player health and safety and protecting the integrity of the game," Goodell said.

"Any form of bounty is incompatible with our commitment to create a culture of sportsmanship, fairness, and safety. Programs of this kind have no place in our game and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL."

According to the league's probe, Williams collected money from players throughout the season, to be paid out as a reward for 'big hits' and plays which took opponents out of the game.

Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, was the central figure in the bounty system, according to the NFL's investigation.

If Wednesday's sanctions are a guide, some of the Saints players could also be facing time out of the game.

"While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players - including leaders among the defensive players - embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players," Goodell said.

"While all club personnel are expected to play to win, they must not let the quest for victory so cloud their judgment that they willingly and willfully target their opponents and engage in unsafe and prohibited conduct intended to injure players."

In a memo to clubs, Goodell asked all 32 owners to speak to their head coaches and confirm that no bounty schemes were in place at their teams.

(Editing by Julian Linden)