By HOWARD FENDRICH, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The NFL Players Association will do its own investigation of the New Orleans Saints' bounty system and asked the league to help set up interviews with the team's coaches and front-office staff.
In a statement released Wednesday, the union vowed to "vigorously protect the rights of all players."
"If the facts prove that players voluntarily and willingly participated in conduct that jeopardized health and safety, we will work with them and the league to put in place additional safeguards to prevent this in the future," the statement said. "Dangerous play and acts on the field by players intended to injure have no place in football. We must do better to ensure that this activity is not a part of our game."
There was no mention of possible punishment for players involved.
After the NFL made its investigation public Friday, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admitted to running a bounty pool of up to $50,000 over the past three seasons, rewarding players for knocking targeted opponents out of games. The league now wants to know whether Williams — who recently left the Saints to become defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams — ran a similar scheme while a head coach or assistant with the Titans, Redskins, Jaguars and Bills.
It took until Tuesday for current Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis to also acknowledge the existence of the bounty system.
"We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility," Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement.
Noting those comments, the NFLPA said Wednesday that it "negotiated vigorously to protect our players from coercive actions that compromise health and safety. The current CBA contains detailed rules on what clubs and coaches can and cannot do in terms of practice schedules and places limitations on the amount of contact. These rules include how clubs and coaches can be punished for violations of those safeguards."
The union asked the NFL to give it "sufficient time" to finish its own inquiry into what happened in New Orleans.
According to the league, "knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000 — with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs. The NFL said the pool amounts reached their height in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The league said between 22 and 27 defensive players were involved from 2009-11, but it hasn't publicly cited specific players.
Spokesmen for the league and Saints declined to comment Wednesday.
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