The New Orleans Saints issued their first official response to the penalties handed down today by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's office.
"To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations," wrote Saints spokesman Greg Bensel, in a press release.
The Saints have been under investigation by the league for numerous violations of the NFL "bounty" rule, in which players were offered rewards for disabling or injuring opponents on the field. The league found the imposition of bounties institutionalized within the Saints organization, with senior coaching and front-office personnel aware of the practice, but doing nothing to stop it.
League investigators also determined the Saints made attempts to deliberately conceal the existence of the program from them, and that the practice continued even after explicit instructions to stop.
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," said Goodell, in a statement earlier this afternoon. "We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it."
The penalties imposed by Goodell's office were severe, including fines, the loss of a second-round draft pick in each of the next two years, and the suspension of key personnel, including General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton. Loomis will miss the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season, while Payton will be forced to sit out the entire year.
"There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again," said Bensel.
The full text of the Saints' statement is below.
STATEMENT FROM NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
For Immediate Release: March 21, 2012
Today, Commissioner Goodell apprised us of the severe penalties facing our club, as proposed by the NFL.
We recognize our fans’ concerns and we regret the uncertainty this episode has created for them. We are humbled by the support our organization has received from our fans today in the wake of this announcement, and we ask them to continue to stand with us, as they have done in the past, when both our team and our city have overcome greater adversities.
To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations.
It has always been the goal of the New Orleans Saints to create a model franchise and to impact our league in a positive manner.
There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again.