New Orleans Saints fans thought they had it bad enough after the team lost its head coach, general manager, and two second round draft choices as punishment for a bounty system in which players earned cash bonuses for injuring members of the opposing team. Well today another shoe dropped, with the NFL suspending four current and past players for their role in the scandal, including star linebacker Jonathan Vilma—arguably the Saints' defensive leader—who will be suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season.
Vilma allegedly offered $10,000 of his own money to any teammate who knocked Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out their 2009 playoff game. The Saints will also lose starting defensive end Will Smith for four games.
For those who don't follow professional football, Vilma's punishment is huge. The league doesn't hand out one-year suspensions to top-tier players willy-nilly. Faced with a growing number of lawsuits alleging the league has not done enough to protect players from injuries—particularly concussions— NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems determined to prove that he's taking this issue seriously.
In addition to Vilma and Smith, the NFL suspended defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) for eight games, and linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) for three. Hargrove did in fact knock Favre out of that 2009 playoff game, a hit for which he was fined at the time.