Mr. President, I rise to speak about a disturbing disclosure made recently by the National Football League. Their investigation revealed that the New Orleans Saints had allegedly been operating an illegal ``bounty'' program.
Under this bounty program, players were reportedly given significant sums of money in direct exchange for intentionally injuring opposing players, disabling them, and for having them carried off the field in an ambulance.
According to reports, compensation started at $1,000 for causing an opponent to be ``carried off'' the field. This was called a ``cart-off.'' The price was $1,500 for causing an opponent to be unable to continue the game. This was known as a ``knockout.'' These ``bounties'' reportedly reached high sums of money, as large as $10,000 and even
What is even more troubling is that reports suggest that these bounty systems might have reached far beyond the New Orleans Saints. Reports surfacing as a result of the NFL's investigation have indicated that other teams may have also been engaged in this practice.
One former professional football player recently tweeted:
Why is this a big deal now? Bounties have been going on forever.
Prices were set on Saturday nights in the team hotel. . . . We laid our bounties on opposing players. We targeted big names, our sights set on taking them out of the game.
Let me tell you why this is important and reprehensible. A spirit of aggressiveness and competitiveness is an integral part of many sporting contests, but bribing players to intentionally hurt their opponents cannot be tolerated. We have to put an end to this.
Just yesterday, to its credit, the NFL announced historically stiff penalties for those involved in the New Orleans Saints bounty program. The team's head coach, general manager, former defensive coordinator, and assistant head coach were suspended for long periods of time. The team will forfeit selections in upcoming drafts and the team was fined.
I commend the National Football League for taking swift and decisive action to discipline those involved in the Saints' bounty program, but we need to make sure this never happens again on any team, in any team sport. For that reason, I will be convening a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I spoke to Senator Pat Leahy about this this morning, and he has given me his permission as chairman to move forward. We will have a hearing and put on the record what sports leagues and teams at the professional and collegiate levels are doing to make sure there is no place in athletics for these pay-to-maim bounties. I want to hear the policies and practices in each of the major sports and collegiate sports that are being put in place, and I want to explore whether Federal legislation is required.
Currently, bribery in a sporting contest is a Federal crime. It is illegal to carry out a scheme in interstate commerce to influence a sporting contest through bribery. This goes back to a law enacted almost 50 years ago by Senator Kenneth Keating of New York. Here is what he said at the time about bribery that would influence the outcome of a sporting contest:
We must do everything we can to keep sports clean so that the fans, and especially young people, can continue to have complete confidence in the honesty of the players and the contest. Scandals in the sporting world are big news, and can have a devastating and shocking effect on the outlook of our youth, to whom sports figures are heroes and idols.
As the Department of Justice stated at that time, when the Federal law making it a crime to engage in bribery to influence the outcome of a sporting contest was enacted, Federal legislation was necessary to deal with the inadequacies and jurisdictional limitations of State law.
Mr. President, most of us are sports fans. I would have to list my favorite sports as football, with baseball a close second. I know football is a contact sport. I still have a bum knee to show from my football experience in high school. Accidents will happen and injuries will happen. That is a part of the game. I knew it when I put on my uniform and went out on the field. But I never dreamed there would be some conspiracy, some bribery involved and some other player trying to intentionally hurt me or take me out of the game. That goes way beyond sports.
I am heartened by the fact that many of the leaders in sports are now sensitized to the injuries that are being caused to players, particularly in the football arena. We know concussions can be devastating and ultimately take the life of a player. The National Football League and others are more and more sensitive to this phenomena. I commend them for this. But this disclosure involving the New Orleans Saints goes to an outrageous level that none of us ever anticipated.
I think it is time, whether we are talking about hockey, football, baseball, basketball, or any collegiate team contest, that we have clear rules to make certain that what happened with the New Orleans Saints never, ever happens again.
This hearing will invite representatives and witnesses from the major sporting leagues and the NCAA. So they will have time to prepare, we will call the hearing after the Easter break, but I hope to have it in a timely fashion.
I want fans all across America and I want players all across America to know that what happened in New Orleans that led to this action by the NFL is not going to be repeated.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
Without objection, it is so ordered.
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