New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed suit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in federal court today in Louisiana. Vilma is suing Goodell for defamation relating to Goodell's public statements that Vilma was involved in the Saints bounty program initiated by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Field and Court obtained a copy of Vilma's complaint, which alleged that Goodell, in a report, stated that Vilma put a $10,000 bounty on Bret Favre prior to the NFL Championship game in January, 2010:
In his suit, Vilma alleges that Goodell has never disclosed any evidence of such a bounty on Favre, or even that a bounty program existed within the Saints organization.
Vilma's allegation relating to the lack of evidence of a bounty program is the crux of his case. In defamations suits, whether it's a libel (written) or slander (spoken) defamation claim, truth is a defense. If Goodell is able to prove the truth of his statements, then Vilma will not only lose his lawsuit, but under federal law, may have to pay Goodell's attorney fees for defending the suit. That would just add insult to injury considering how Vilma is out $2.2 million after being suspended for the entire 2012 football season.
The discipline Vilma received from Goodell may be seen as harsh to some, but considering the great importance the NFL is placing on player safety, it should come as no surprise. And while the Saints may not be the only program in the NFL with such a bounty program (allegedly, of course), they are the only program that had a snitch, according to Warren Sapp.
Goodell was able to get to the snitch and gain evidence (again, allegedly) that he feels warrants Vilma's suspension. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' pre-game speech does nothing to dispel the notion that a bounty program existed, or at least players were encouraged to hurt opposing players.
So while Williams (and possibly (allegedly) Vilma) may have wanted to do everything to "kill Frank Gore's head" to knock him out of the game, Goodell did what he could to "knock out" Vilma for not just a game, but an entire season.
This is all well-and-good, except for the fact that Goodell has not released any evidence of an actual bounty program. Goodell has put the cart before the horse in every sense of the meaning.
Before Goodell is permitted to suspend individuals in an illegal program, certainly those individuals should be privy to the evidence against them. A hide the ball approach to cutting off millions of dollars of salary to these individuals and their families is unacceptable; at least it should be. Certainly, it's a scary proposition when your employer can essentially fire you for a reason that they know of but won't tell you, or more importantly, show you.
The F&C spoke with Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, and Ginsberg made it clear that Vilma's quarrel is not with the Saints, but rather with the way in which Goodell handled the bounty situation. Vilma believes that Goodell's unsubstantiated allegations were not only wrong, but illegal. Hence, the lawsuit.
Vilma is standing behind his claim that a bounty program did not exist within the Saints organization. And as far as evidence goes, nothing has been produced to prove otherwise. One thing is for certain, this lawsuit will change all that. With subpoena power, Ginsberg will be able to demand the evidence Goodell used in doling out Vilma's discipline.