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NFL bounty payments involved four teams, say media reports

NFL bounty payments were made by the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and New Orleans Saints, according to news reports. Expect legal action, as well as fines, say analysts.

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Both Rodenberg and Callan said the extent of the wrongdoing would determine if battery, conspiracy and racketeering charges would ensue. The more likely scenario at this point, they said, was for state and federal authorities to let the NFL deal with the problem.

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Messages seeking comments for this story from the four NFL teams were not returned.

In a statement on Friday, Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, confirmed that the system had been in place at the Saints.

"It was a terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it," he said.

"I take full responsibility for my role".

Bills CEO Russ Brandon denied knowledge of any such payment system while Williams was head coach, telling the Buffalo News, "We would not have tolerated that type of behavior."

On the civil side of the law, one possibility is a class action, Callan said.

Fans who had tickets to games involving bounty payments could assert they paid to watch games based solely on athletic ability, not on side bets for taking players out, Callan said. Damages likely would be limited to the price of the tickets, but considering the value of those tickets and the thousands of fans who attend, the damages could add up quickly, he said.

The claims could be similar to those made in a 2007 lawsuit seeking class-action status. In that case, a New York Jets season ticketholder sued the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick. The lawsuit claimed that the Patriots deceived fans by secretly videotaping the Jets coaches making hand signals. In 2010, a federal appeals court threw out the case, ruling that attending an "honest" game was not a viable claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to hear the case.

A NEW PRECEDENT?

Ticketholders considering class actions against the Saints and other teams should note that the appeals court in 2010 wrote in its ruling that the case was unlike others it had considered, which could leave room for subsequent cases. The appeals court limited its ruling to the contractual relationship between team and ticketholder.

Other civil claims could include battery and conspiracy made by injured players. In their defense, the Saints and other teams likely would argue that even if bounty payments had occurred, the opposing players assumed the risk of injury and could not recover for them, said Kenneth Shropshire, an attorney at law firm Duane Morris in Philadelphia and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. That defense could be persuasive to a court, he said.

"This is a violent sport that they volunteer to participate in. That's just the mentality of the game," he said.

Linda Greene, professor at University of Wisconsin Law School, said that the assumption-of-the-risk defense could fail if the bounty payments had so changed the terms of play that the hits were beyond what was normal.

Proving damages under any battery claims would take a meticulous analysis of the particular hits in question to determine if they were beyond the usual bounds of play, Greene said.

Any claims or charges would be subject to statutes of limitations, legal experts said. Determining which jurisdictions' laws applied and when the alleged conduct began and ended likely would be major points of contention. (Editing by Howard Goller)

RELATED: How well do you know the NFL rules? A quiz.

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