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Sports

Payton penitent over Saints’ bounties

March 24, 2012

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— Sean Payton apologized Friday for the bounty scandal under which Saints players were offered payouts for big hits on opponents, saying he takes “full responsibility” for the system that operated for three years under his watch.

“I share and fully support the league’s concerns and goals on player safety,” the Saints coach said in a written statement released by the team. “It is, and should be paramount.

“Respecting our great game and the NFL shield is extremely important to me,” Payton added, referring to the league’s famous logo.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday suspended Payton for the 2012 season, effective April 1, one of several unprecedented penalties he issued against the club and its officials.

Payton said that, as head coach, he should take full responsibility for a program which the NFL says offered improper cash bonuses for blows that either knocked targeted star players out of the game or left them needing help off the field.

The NFL has said Payton initially lied to NFL investigators about the program, at first denying its existence, and also instructed his defensive assistants to lie. The league also slapped an eight-game suspension on general manager Mickey Loomis and a six-game suspension on assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers.

Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the Saints after last season to join the St. Louis Rams, ran the bounty program and has been suspended indefinitely.

In his statement, Payton said the Saints “will implement all necessary protections and protocols, and I will be more vigilant going forward.”

Payton, however, won’t begin exercising that vigilance until after New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl next February, when his suspension officially ends.

The coach also thanked team owner Tom Benson, his players and Saints fans “for their overwhelming support.”

Some Saints players have already been in touch with Payton to let him know they are behind him, and starting right tackle Zach Strief said on Friday players “owe it” to their embattled coach to come closer together.

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