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Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Mailbag: Legal action unlikely for bounty

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

More than a few of you have been asking if anyone connected with the New Orleans Saints could face legal action as a result of the bounty program uncovered last week by the NFL. If the Minnesota Vikings can't get back the 2009 NFC Championship Game, you figure, maybe the victorious Saints can still be punished.

Kevin of Park Ridge, Ill., wondered why the Saints wouldn't face charges of assault or "conspiracy to commit assault?" Luke of Sioux Falls, S. Dakota, wrote:

"Football is a violent sport and in the past it would be impossible to justify a lawsuit based off of a player injuring another, but when that player is paid for doing so they, and the one who pays them, are breaking United States law and should be charged with felony assault (battery). I believe there are many instances in which they can be proven to have caused serious bodily harm, the pictures of Brett Favre after the Championship game are proof of one instance, and now that it is known that they intended to, which is necessary for felony assault, they should not only be punished by the NFL but by the courts."

I get what you're saying, and I won't pretend to be a legal expert. But I will point you in the direction of an extensive analysis of this topic from ESPN's Lester Munson. The bottom line is that criminal and/or civil cases are highly unlikely to net a productive result.

A civil suit would require proof of significant injury outside of the normal realm of the game. As a result, Munson, wrote: "Any litigation claiming damages would be overwhelmed by an NFL culture that encourages crushing hits and features players who are wont to say they are tough enough to accept them."

As for criminal charges, Munson noted the 2004 case against NHL player Todd Bertuzzi, whose attack on Steve Moore was far more brutal than anything that happened in the Vikings-Saints NFC Championship Game. Moore's career ended when Bertuzzi's punch resulted in three fractured vertebrae, a concussion, amnesia and deep lacerations. The ensuing case was settled in exchange for a community service commitment.

Munson: "Even in these compelling circumstances -- an obviously deliberate and dirty attack that caused life-altering injuries -- the criminal charges were settled for community service. And there is nothing in the record of any Saints player that remotely resembles the Bertuzzi attack."

Punishment outside of the NFL realm is worthy of discussion, but from a legal perspective, it appears to be a moot point.