March 22, 2012

Sports Bounties

As Prepared for Delivery

Mr./Mme. President, I rise to speak about a disturbing practice that was recently uncovered by the National Football League.

 

Let me say, it is important to play hard in every sport. But it is also important to play fair … and to play safe.

 

I was appalled to learn about a recent National Football League investigation revealing that the New Orleans Saints had allegedly been running an illegal “bounty” program.

 

Through this disturbing practice, players were reportedly given significant sums of money in direct exchange for intentionally injuring opposing players. For hurting them. For having them carried off in stretchers.

 

For example: 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 sums as large as $10,000 or $50,000.

 

What is even more troubling is that reports suggest that these “bounty systems” might be pervasive in circles far beyond the New Orleans Saints. Reports surfacing as a result of the NFL’s investigation have indicated that this could be widespread practice.

 

One former professional football player recently tweeted: “Why is this a big deal now? Bounties been going on forever.”

 

Another stated: “Prices were set on Saturday nights in the team hotel . . . . [W]e 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 a big deal: People could get severely hurt. A spirit of aggressiveness and competitiveness is an integral part of any sporting contest. Compensating players to intentionally hurt their opponents cannot be. We must put an end to this.

 

Just yesterday, the NFL announced stiff penalties for those involved in the 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 was fined. I commend the NFL for taking swift action to discipline those involved in the Saints’ bounty program. But we need to make sure that this does not happen ever again … on any team, in any sport.

 

For that reason, I will be holding a hearing on this issue. I have spoken with Senator Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee; and Senator Whitehouse, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Crime Subcommittee, and they have agreed to my convening a hearing in the Crime Subcommittee.

 

I want to know what our sports leagues and teams are doing to make sure that there is no place in athletics for these bounties. I want to hear what kinds of policies and practices will be put in place.  

 

And I want to explore whether federal legislation is needed in this area. Currently, “bribery in sporting contests” is a federal crime. It is illegal to carry out a scheme in interstate commerce to influence a sporting contest through bribery.

 

In 1951, New York City District Attorney Frank Hogan indicted college basketball players from four New York schools for point shaving. In 1958, Kenneth Keating defeated Hogan in an election to become a member of the United States Senate. As a Senator, Keating authored the federal sports bribery statute.

 

 Senator Keating said: “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 contests. 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 the time, federal legislation was necessary to deal with inadequacies and jurisdictional limitations of state law.

 

Should we extend this existing federal prohibition to sports bounties by making it a crime to offer or accept bounties for the intentional injury of another player?

 

I look forward to holding a hearing dedicated to exploring these issues and ensuring integrity and safety in our sports.
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