AFC North reaction to Saints' punishment

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
10:30
AM ET
There were differing opinions in the AFC North over the unprecedented punishment given to the New Orleans Saints for their bounty system.

Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is also the team's player representative, told the team's official website that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling was "too harsh."

Whitworth seemed to take exception to the year-long suspension without pay for Saints coach Sean Payton. As a matter of full disclosure, Whitworth, a Louisiana native, has become good friends with Payton, who is the main speaker for Whitworth's charity foundation dinner March 30.

"I would imagine there should be some kind of sanctions, but this is ridiculous," Whitworth said. "To give a guy the same suspension that you give a guy that went to jail for a felony doesn't make sense. A guy who gets suspended for steroids can come back in four or eight games and make money and we applaud that.

"They weren't gambling. They weren't drinking or driving. If you want to make an example of someone, make an example of someone who commits a crime."

Unlike Whitworth, Steelers president Art Rooney II supported the actions of Goodell.

"I think the commissioner is sending a very loud and clear message here," Rooney told the team's official website. "Hopefully, the effect is going to be that we will get these kinds of things out of the game. We don't need this in our game."

The NFL is still reviewing player involvement in the bounty program, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita could be subject to punishment.

Fujita, who is a member of the union's executive board, acknowledged earlier this month that he made contributions to the pay-for-performance pool when he was in New Orleans. He said he handed reward money to Saints teammates for big plays but not for intentionally injuring players.

According to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, disciplining players could be "extremely sticky for the league" because the NFL Players Association would defend Fujita and other players accused by the NFL.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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