Following a thorough investigation by the NFL, ESPN is reporting that several New Orleans Saints players and at least one assistant coach blatantly violated the NFL's bounty rule by paying players for vicious hits on opposing players.
Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator for the Saints from 2009-2011, has already apologized for his actions, and it's only a matter of time until Roger Goodell hits the Saints with some serious penalties.
But will a hefty fine and a few draft picks serve as an adequate punishment?
What about the players who might have been victims of these alleged "bounty" hits?
Could Williams face criminal charges for allegedly orchestrating an incentive program where his players would receive cash payments for inflicting violent hits on opposing players? Are the players who participated in this scandal criminally culpable?
Are civil charges looming over the Saints' organization? How much information did head coach Sean Payton possess? Was Saints ownership aware of these alleged bounty payments?
And lastly, who was affected by this scandal? How many players were seriously injured or had their careers cut short due to a violent hit from a Saints player looking for a quick cash score?
In all likelihood, no.
But if criminal charges are a possibility, battery would be the most likely offense committed here.
Although criminal laws vary across states, a conviction for criminal battery typically requires an offensive touching or contact made upon a person with the aggressor's intent to make the offensive contact or knowledge of his actions that would cause the offensive contact.
Criminal battery is a pretty straight-forward crime with most cases hinging on whether or not the accused intended to cause some harm. In light of any Saints players allegedly going after opposing players with the intent to inflict serious harm in exchange for a cash bounty, the facts appear to satisfy the "intent" element, but not the "offensive contact" element.
Professional football players expect to either inflict violent hits or sustain them. An "offensive contact" in this situation would have to equate to some sort of touching against their will. It's important to remember that an actual injury is not required to prove criminal battery.
The legal defense here for a Saints player is most likely "assumption of risk," since football players know they will likely face physical violence on virtually every play. That being said, a player does not assume an opposing player is out to injure them. Therefore, the victim would have to prove that a Saints player actually intended to injure them, which is no small feat.
The game of football is inherently violent. Each and every play incites serious physical altercations. In the overwhelming majority of violent hits, there is most certainly a hint of reasonable doubt as to whether or not the aggressor intended to injure his victim.
Civil battery is a tort that also requires an intentional offensive contact against a person or thing. The two factors in a civil suit are liability and damages; you must have both to be successful in bringing a civil case.
A civil suit could be brought against any opposing player who feels they were legally wronged by the Saints' so-called "cash-for-cartoff" program. Plaintiffs' lawyers typically involve anyone responsible or someone with knowledge of alleged schemes that resulted in a civil wrong.
That being said, a lawsuit could name head coach Sean Payton or, more importantly, Tom Benson and the Saints' organization. Depending on how much information they knew or whether they advanced this "bounty" program could lead to a jury to find the organization liable for any damages.
Under the legal theory "Respondeat Superior," an employer is liable for the actions of their employee when those actions occur within the scope of employment. In short, the Saints could be looking at a bevy of damaging lawsuits that could end up costing them millions of dollars.
At this point, the rumor mill is running wild. Brett Favre and Kurt Warner have already responded to claims that they were victims in this "bounty" scandal. But did they suffer any serious injuries from these alleged hits? Do they even want to pursue a civil suit?
For Favre and Warner, it's doubtful.
The NFL is apparently in possession of 50,000 pages of documents regarding this scandal. I am sure that over the course of the next few weeks, we are going to learn about potential victims, their claims and how they were financially wronged by this scandal.
Former players will most likely assert everything from physical damage to shortened careers. Proving this will no doubt be tough, but a skilled trial attorney with an arsenal of experts can certainly craft an appropriate damages award against an evil organization that enticed its players to injure for cash.
I'm sensing a windfall of litigation ahead.
I personally think Roger Goodell has done an incredible job cleaning up the image of the NFL. The league's reputation has had a virtual face-lift since he took over in 2006. Goodell's personal conduct policy, though controversial in the eyes of many, has instilled discipline before a court of law determines a player's fate.
This will not be the first time Goodell disciplines an organization. "Spygate" was a public relations nightmare, and there are still some unanswered questions surrounding that scandal.
But one thing is for sure: The NFL is still the most popular league in America. Fans are still showing up at games, and television revenue is at an all-time high.
Some might argue that Goodell has nothing to do with the continued success of the league, but he's still the commissioner. And all eyes will be on him when he imposes sanctions on the Saints.
Monetary punishment is almost obvious. The bigger question will be whether the Saints are stripped of draft picks, or whether Goodell will get creative with his punishment. I expect Goodell to come down rather hard on the Saints, but at this juncture, it's way too early to speculate.