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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NFL Bounty Scandal - Pre-Saints?

I feel I’m coming a little late to the party, given that this is my first guest post and we’ve almost hit the middle of June.  I’ll blame it on Law and Society in Hawaii, although Dave didn’t seem to have problems posting while he was there…

 I am hoping this month to post some things on drugs, guns, and general border crime stuff – all the fun stuff in my wheelhouse.  I also have enjoyed looking at some things on Fast and Furious and the Ted Stevens prosecution too, so I might say some stuff there too.   We’ll see how far we get.

 But first, I’ve been doing some research on prominent prosecutions gone wrong (hence the interest in both Fast and Furious and the Ted Stevens prosecution, and we can likely chalk the John Edwards prosecution up there now as well).  One of the “case studies” I’m looking at is from the Archer Daniels Midland price-fixing investigation in the mid-90s (and thankfully, Kurt Eichenwald put everything together in a nice book for me to read: The Informant (published in 2000 and made into a movie staring Matt Damon in 2009, although I can’t find the movie anywhere here in Laramie so I haven’t seen it yet)).  While reading through the book, I noticed something that seems to have a played a prominent role in sports news this past few months, so I wanted to comment slightly on that.

 By way of background:

the ADM investigation involved a number of FBI agents, AUSAs, folks from Main Justice and other officials investigating ADM allegedly engaging in price fixing with other foreign corporations.  The FBI became involved when Mark Whitacre (“the Informant”) started cooperating and recorded numerous conversations with officials from other companies and persons working at his own company.  Whitacre seems to have acted at times as a rogue agent (and also seems to have engaged in embezzlement from ADM while working as a CI (confidential informant)) and ultimately got a pretty high chunk of time in prison.  While my research deals with the problems inherent in having a prosecutor run such an investigation, that isn’t the point of this post. 

 To make a long post short (too late), I noticed some information about the NFL bounty scandal in the book.  On p. 465 of the book, Eichenwald describes a FBI interview of Ron Ferrari, one of Whitacre’s salesmen and someone the FBI thought might be involved in the price-fixing.  Ferrari played linebacker for the 49ers during the Joe Montana years, and the FBI questioned him about $25,000 in a safe-deposit box (thinking it might have come from price-fixing).  Ferrari tells the FBI this is money from “unofficial bonuses” he received while playing football for the 49ers.  He goes on to indicate that sometimes, when there were unpopular players on the other team, the coaches would pay “little bonus payments” for a “particularly vicious hit on one of those unpopular guys.”  This seems exactly what the NFL bounty scandal is all about, but this is an allegation of it happening in the mid-80s, a long time before the Saints “bountygate” came out.

 So, after my exhaustive internet research on this issue (about 2 minutes on Google), as far as I can tell, this information never made it to the NFL.  In 2000, Eichenwald provides evidence about these bounties occurring in the NFL, and yet, no mention is made of that within the Saints “bounty-gate” discussion.  Of course, I’m not surprised that none of this information really made much of a dent back in 2000 because a) it isn’t likely that anyone associated with the NFL read Eichenwald’s book, and b) the bounty-gate stuff seems more of a big deal now given all of the concussion-related news and suits that have arisen in the past year or so.

 Of course, now that I’ve written this post, I’m sure I’ll be getting called by Roger Goodell… 

 Thanks for letting me post, and I look forward to trying to post some interesting things here while I’m here.    

 

Posted by Stewart Young on June 12, 2012 at 02:29 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Film, Sports | Permalink

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Hi Stewart, one simple answer to your question is that either the NFL knows and doesn’t care (because it was an isolated incident in an otherwise more interesting criminal story of the ADM stuff) or the NFL knows and cares (but it's part of the greater file on bounty-gate that the public doesn't have access to). It’s been clear from the media coverage that this has been going on forever on lots of teams (just one morning’s worth of ESPN Radio makes that obvious). The Saints are getting slammed because (a) they were dumb about it (slides with hunting references?!); (b) as you note, the concussion news coverage has brought league violence (and harmful violence, at that) to everyone’s attention like never before; and (c) (this is pure speculation on my part) the new CBA has some provisions that give Goodell stronger punishment power over players and coaches on matters like this and he’s using the supporting evidence from (a) to use these tools to his advantage because of (b).

One thing I'm curious about: is there any instance where the types of hits being described by the bounty setters (taking Favre out of the game, for example), in the context of the NFL, are criminal acts? Players are employed to perform acts that would otherwise be assaults or other lesser criminal charges if you or I did them to unwitting strangers, right? (I know precious little about criminal law, so forgive me if this is a naïve way of looking at it...) What would a player have to do, short of pulling a gun during a game, to be considered committing a crime on the field? [Insert Plaxico Burress joke here...]

Posted by: Amelia Rinehart | Jun 20, 2012 12:22:16 PM

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