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Alleged Saints Bounty Program Could Lead To Legal Troubles For NFL

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is the latest to sound off on the unauthorized New Orleans Saints "bounty" program that quietly rewarded players for devastating hits on opponents, including $1,000 payments for hits that forced opponents out of the game.

Eli Manning, whose brother, Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton, may have been the target of one of these Saints bounty hits, told NFL.com flatly the practice has to end. He declared his support for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying "(he'll) do a good job figuring all this out and making sure this doesn't happen again."

Goodell may need the support. The bounty program embraced by some Saints players was allegedly directed by defensive coach Gregg Williams, who has worked with several teams, and USA Today says the NFL is investigating the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills to see if Williams was involved in alleged programs there.

As Reuters reports, the discovery of the bounty programs could swell the number of lawsuits pending against the NFL by retired players who say their health problems, such as concussions, were worsened because the NFL was negligent about preventing injuries. Williams has admitted his role in the matter, and apologized.

Goodell said the practice cannot be tolerated but has yet to issue penalties. Could there be legal charges? Law professor Gabe Feldman tells NFL.com it's possible - but not likely. Similar cases of sports violence have been handled in Canada, he says, and the U.S. legal system has allowed professional sport leagues to police themselves.

But he mentions one civil case from 1973, when a pro football player successfully sued another for a hit away from the ball. The case got to a federal appellate court, which "held that a football player can be made responsible for injuring an opponent if he acts with "reckless disregard for the opponent's safety."

As for the large cash bonuses that some Saints players allegedly received, Sports law professor Michael McCann adds this twist -

"Players who received bounty payments should have reported them as taxable income; even if the payments arose because of criminal activity, such "ill gotten gains" are taxable. Failure to pay one's full share of taxes constitutes tax evasion. The IRS and Louisiana Department of Revenue are likely following the bounty system scandal with a watchful eye."

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