The National Football League may be one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, but it’s also one that happens to court some pretty consistent controversy, and every now and then, the controversies and scandals within the league can get downright barbaric and bizarre. As Draft Day and another NFL season loom on the country’s collective horizon, here is a look back at five of the strangest controversies in the NFL.
1. That Time the Falcons Piped in Crowd Noise
For making their home crowd sound louder than they really are during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Atlanta Falcons lost a fifth-round draft pick in the 2016 draft and were also fined $350,000. Artificial crowd noise is prohibited by league rules, and the Falcons’ director of event marketing, Roddy White, piped in plenty over the course of those two guilty-making seasons. If he hadn’t been fired by the Falcons for his part in the crowd noise scandal, White would have faced a suspension of eight games.
2. That Time the Saints Players Collected Bounties
When it came out that the New Orleans Saints had been offering bounty payouts to any defensive player who injured an opponent so severely he had to be removed from the game, it sounded too ridiculous to be true. Unfortunately, once the dust from the investigation had settled, the reality turned out to be worse than the rumors. Players were paid $1,500 for knocking an opponent out and $1,000 for causing them to be carried off the field. During the playoffs, those payouts doubled and even tripled.
Once it had been brought to light, the punishment from the NFL was swift and, some say, severe. Defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who implemented and oversaw the program, was suspended indefinitely. Head coach Sean Payton was fined $500,000. The Saints’ general manager was fined $500,000 and given an eight-game suspension. The team also lost their second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. While the scandal didn’t hurt the NFL brand too much with the public — ticket sales and merchandise sales of items stayed high — the message to those within the NFL was clear: Aiming to injure would not be tolerated.
3. That Time Ray Farmer Texted
The use of technology hasn’t just given the NFL instant replay, it’s also created some headaches — just ask Browns’ GM Ray Farmer about his cellphone use this past season. Farmer, on four separate occasions during 2014, texted from the coach’s box down to the his coaches on the sidelines, which — believe it or not — is in direct violation of NFL rules that limit the types of technology, devices, and communication that can be used and carried out during games. For his part in TextGate — as the media immediately felt the need to dub it — Farmer received a four-game suspension without pay and the Browns were fined $250,000.
4. That Time the Patriots Videoed Opponents’ Signals
In 2007, the NFL and its fans learned that a New England Patriots’ staff member had videotaped the coaches’ signals used by the Jets during the season’s opening game. The punishment for that bit of intentional trickery was understandably harsh: The Patriots lost their first-round draft pick in 2008.
Head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team paid a fine of $250,000. The Patriots also faced the contempt of the entire league and many of its fans for so clearly stepping outside the bounds of what most consider sportsmanlike play.
5. That Time the Patriots and the Jets Filed Tampering Charges Against Each Other
Just when that whole videotaping thing was nearly forgotten, the Patriots and the Jets found themselves in the midst of another controversy —this time around tampering. The reasons for the charges go something like this: When Darrelle Revis was a free agent last season, he made it clear that he wanted to return to the Jets to play. However, they didn’t extend a contract, so he signed with New England with an option valued at $20 million, which means when his contract came up for renewal at the end of 2015, New England wasn’t likely to renew it.
Enter Woody Johnson last December, who, with just a few simple comments about how he’d like Revis — who, at the time of the comments was still under contract with New England — to return to his team, has found himself mired in tampering charges filed by the Patriots. Then, the tables turned. In mid-March, Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft made similar comments about Revis, and he now faces tampering charges filed by the Jets. This controversy is still playing out, so no punishments have been levied yet.
Ah, the NFL. If it isn’t a bastion of great games and plays, it’s a hotbed of scandal. Here’s hoping the next season finds the NFL delightfully free of anything like these five strange controversies, and they continue their work against domestic violence issues.