Who’s on First? A Weekly Sports Column

“Bounty” scandal hits NFL

Football is a dangerous game, filled with bone-crunching hits and high-speed collisions. However, the NFL takes player safety seriously, doling out fines like candy on Halloween to deter players from injuring one another. The scandal coming out of New Orleans, then, will likely come with some stiff punishment from the NFL.

Last week, the NFL announced that a league investigation into the New Orleans Saints organization uncovered a “bounty system,” in which players and coaches gave out and received cash rewards for injuring members of the opposing team. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the team for the same position with the St. Louis Rams in January, admitted his involvement in the bounty system and apologized according to CBSSports.com, saying “we knew it was wrong while we were doing it” and that he’s “truly sorry.”

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton apologized to owner Tom Benson for the embarrassment in a statement on Tuesday. The NFL alleges that the bounty system started in 2009 and may have involved as many as 27 players and up to $50,000, according to the New York Times. The Times went on to report that players received money for knocking a player out of the game, extra money if he was carted off of the field, and even more money in the playoffs. Also, linebacker Jonathan Vilma allegedly offered $10,000 to any player who knocked quarterback Brett Favre, then with the Minnesota Vikings, out of the 2010 NFC Championship game. The NFL also alleges that Loomis and Payton were both well aware of the program’s existence, and that Payton actually tried to “deter an NFL investigation” into the matter. Reaction to the scandal is mixed, with some claiming the outrage is misplaced or even hypocritical, and others demanding the immediate termination of Williams, Loomis and Payton. The scandal is still spreading as well, with the NFL investigating Williams’ former teams and preparing for possible legal action.

Another Crosby comeback

For the second time this year, the NHL’s marquee player is ready to come back from concussion problems. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has been practicing with the team for a while now, was cleared for contact earlier this week, and could return to game action as early as this Sunday. Penguins head coach Dan Byslma told the Toronto Star that Crosby has been “skating hard for days, if not weeks,” and Crosby himself reported that he is symptom-free for the first time in three months. Crosby’s last comeback attempt lasted just eight games before he was shelved with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms. The symptoms from Crosby’s prior concussions and the previously undiagnosed soft tissue damage in his neck are now gone, and Crosby said he would allow himself days of contact in practice and would return to game action “no sooner than Sunday” when his Penguins face the Boston Bruins, the team some say is responsible for his latest round of symptoms, on national television on Sunday afternoon. Crosby’s team has done just fine without him, mainly due to the Herculean efforts of likely league MVP Evgeni Malkin, as the Penguins are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and are tied with Nashville for the fifth-most points in the NHL.

Indy is no longer “Peyton’s Place”

It was a scenario that many anticipated, but one that is nevertheless a bit surreal: Peyton Manning is no longer a member of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts and owner Jim Isray elected to release the Super Bowl champion and four-time league MVP rather than pay him a $28 million bonus and pick up the four-year, $90 million contract option.

Manning, who hasn’t played since January of 2011 due to a variety of neck injuries, is now an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any NFL club. Manning and Isray held an emotional joint press conference on Wednesday morning to announce the move, with Isray saying that “there will be no other Peyton Manning” and Manning saying that he’ll “always be a Colt.” Manning was drafted first overall by the Colts in 1998, and started 208 straight games for the club from 1998 to January of 2011. He took the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2006 and 2009, beating the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI and falling to the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.

A combination of factors led to Manning’s release, particularly concerns about his health and the fact that the Colts, who own the first overall pick in the coming NFL Draft, are now in “rebuilding” mode. Manning doesn’t plan on retiring, saying that he’s getting closer and closer to being back in form, and that he’s “confident” he’ll play for an NFL team in 2012. The Manning debate now moves from whether or not he’ll be a Colt to which team he’ll play for in 2012, with candidates reportedly including the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals. As part of the free agency process, Manning was placed on the NFL’s waiver wire and was free to sign with any NFL team as of 4 PM on Wednesday. Let the bidding war begin!

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