(RNN) - The NFL announced severe suspensions and sanctions against the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday in response to their alleged "bounty" program.
Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season without pay, and general manager Mickey Loomis for half the season. The team lost their second-round picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL Drafts.
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," Goodell said. "We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised."
Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who signed with the St. Louis Rams for the same position this offseason, has been suspended indefinitely.
Also, assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been suspended without pay for six games, and the team was fined $500,000.
The league stated an investigation into the New Orleans bounties, reportedly run by Williams, paid players thousands in bonuses for injuring opponents.
According to the NFL, the three-year program ran in violation of league rules, and players received $1,500 for a knockout hit and $1,000 for a "cart-off" hit. The bounties doubled or tripled in the team's playoff appearances.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 before the 2009 NFC Championship game for anyone who knocked out Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre.
Goodell said discipline for individual players involved in the prohibited program continues to be under review with the NFL Players Association and will be addressed at a later date.
On March 14, the NFL Players Association requested the league not punish the 22 to 27 players involved.
On March 6, Payton and Loomis issued a statement acknowledging the bounties and taking full responsibility.
"These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," they stated. "Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans."
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