Suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, claiming the league’s top executive made false declarations that tarnished Vilma’s status and hindered his ability to earn money playing football.
The suit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans claims Goodell, “relied on, at the very best hearsay, circumstantial proof and lies” in making affirmations about Vilma while talking about the NFL’s bounty inquiry of the New Orleans Saints.
Goodell has expounded Vilma was a leader of the team’s bounty plan that put up thousands of dollars for hits which took out opposing teams’ star players from 2009-11, including $10,000 each on then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota QB Brett Favre in the playoffs in 2010.
“Commissioner Goodell opted to make very public and sadly erroneous allegations against Jonathan,” said Vilma’s attorney. “By making these false and public declarations, he has significantly harmed Jonathan’s reputation and capability to make a living.
“By suing Commissioner Goodell in court, Jonathan opted to utilize a fair playing field where he has procedural rights and protections to remedy the harm Commissioner Goodell has done to him.”
Goodell has suspended Vilma, an 8-year veteran and defensive captain, for the whole 2012 season. Vilma and 3 other current of former Saints who received shorter suspensions — defensive end Will Smith, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita — all have appealed their punishments. Hargrove now plays for Green Bay while Fujita is with Cleveland. Baseball lines
“We have not yet reviewed the filing,” NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello recounted. “However, our commitment to player safety and the integrity of the game is our main consideration. We recognize that not everyone will agree with calls that need to be made.”
The NFL also hired former Fed prosecutor Mary Jo White in late 2011 to review its evidence in the case, and White has related the NFL’s observations are corroborated by multiple independent witnesses as well as documentation.
Vilma’s lawsuit action, which is predicted to be heard, asks for vague financial damages as well as punitive damage and attorneys costs.
The suit states that Goodell, “knew and intended that Vilma would suffer severe emotional trouble” when the NFL published its bounty report and handed down punishment for the 30-year-old linebacker.
The players’ association has declared that the league has refused to turn over what the union would view as hard proof that Vilma or the other sanctioned players attempted to intentionally harm targeted opponents, or sponsored that kind of behavior.
“It is definitely the case that in court, Jonathan will have a right to see whatever it’s that Commissioner Goodell has been hiding from us and what Commissioner Goodell contends gave him a basis to make these fake allegations,” said Vilma’s attorney. “We will have a fair and neutral judge to preside over the dispute instead of fighting with the executioner also being the individual making the final decision.”
Vilma’s court action states the linebacker “never ‘pledged, ‘ made or received payments of any kind inspiring or coming from an opposing player being injured.”