The NFL has been secretly investigating the New Orleans Saints organization since 2010. It wasn't about steroids, it wasn't about illegal tampering with free agents, it was about a bounty program created by players and coaches that encouraged the defense to hurt and knock opponents out of games. The fund was started in 2009 by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the Rams, and was maintained through 2011 by between 22 to 27 players. 

According to the NFL, players were rewarded from a pot that reached up to $50,000. $1,500 was awarded for knocking a player out, and $1,000 was given if the opponent had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. Team owner Tom Benson found out about the program and ordered general manager Mickey Loomis to stop the entire thing. Against better judgement, he did not. Coach Sean Payton was also aware of the scheme, yet he overlooked the issue. 

"I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the 'pay for performance' program while I was with the Saints," Williams said in a statement. "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. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been singled out as one of the worst offenders. He reportedly offered his defensive teammates $10,000 if they were successfully able to knock aging Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship game. Favre responded to the news by saying, "I'm not pissed. It's football. I don't think anything less of those guys," but a public attack was launched on Vilma via Twitter. As you can see in the above pictures, people weren't afraid to direct racial slurs, curse words, and other demeaning phrases at the football player. In the final picture, he responded by tweeting, "Truly enjoyed those ridiculous tweets today they were pretty Amusing. Loved da support from my tru fans even more tho." He'll need all the love and support when Roger Goodell finally reaches a plan of discipline. 

[via Eye on Football, ESPN]

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