If you thought that New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was going to take his year-long suspension for his alleged part in the Saints' bounty scandal lying down ... well, think again. Just one day after the Saints got their day in front of an arbitrator to appeal their penalties, Vilma filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (and not the NFL as an entity).
The suit claims that "Goodell, speaking publicly about certain Saints executives, coaches and players, in relation to purported efforts designed to injure opposing players, made public statements concerning Vilma which were false, defamatory and injurious to Vilma's professional and personal reputation."
The suit reviews the public statements Goodell has made about Vilma and other Saints players, coaches and executives, and it gets specific about statements made about Vilma.
Goodell, in the March 2 Club Report, also alleged that "prior to a Saints playoff game in January, 2010, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked [opposing quarterback Brett] Favre out of the game." ("Favre Allegation.")
Goodell knew and intended that the contents of the March 2 Club Report would be disseminated publicly.
The contents of the March 2 Club Report, including the Favre Allegation, were reported, and continue to be reported, by essentially every major news organization, as Goodell intended.
Upon information and belief, Goodell told others that Vilma placed $10,000 in cash on a table during a team meeting in making the alleged offer concerning Favre.
The suit then goes on to claim the lack of evidence made available by Goodell and the league, despite repeated requests by the Saints organization, Vilma's attorney Peter Ginsberg, and the NFLPA.
Goodell did not reveal, and, despite repeated requests from among others, Vilma, has never revealed, any evidence purportedly corroborating that a Bounty Program existed, that Vilma participated in any such Bounty Program.
And if that is true, that's where things could get sticky for the NFL, especially since Goodell has said that he may make some of the evidence public record at some point in time. The players and NFLPA are clearly frustrated by what they perceive to be Goodell's continuing efforts to try this case in the court of public opinion, while denying those accused and penalized the right and ability to review the evidence and statements against them.
In an interview Shutdown Corner conducted with NFLPA lead outside counsel Richard Smith on May 4, Smith's frustration with the process was palpable, leading us to believe that as much as this lawsuit may actually be about implied damages to Vilma's professional and personal reputation, it's also an attempt to facilitate the discovery process the players and NFLPA has claimed to want all along.
"All the PA ever physically received from the NFL were the report and the coaches' suspension decision [attached as Exhibits A and B] to the Burbank grievance, and the suspension letters to the four players, attached as Exhibits C-F to the Burbank grievance," Smith told us. "This the sum total of the 'facts' that have been provided by the NFL. The league exhibited the PowerPoint in a meeting in March 2012, but refused to make a copy available. They refused to make anything else available, even under an agreement of confidentiality. The PA's multiple requests to the NFL for documents and for the ability to interview witnesses have all been denied. The letters that were sent asking coaches to give interviews to the PA have all gone unanswered."
This is why the grievance heard on Wednesday was filed, and it could be an ancillary reason for Vilma's action. Then again, if Vilma truly believes that the evidence against him is sufficiently flimsy or easily shot down, the suit could be exactly what it says -- Vilma's reputation has been irrevocably damaged without his own ability to rebut and counter evidence and statements he hasn't actually seen.
In the 11 different Claims for Relief in the suit, Vilma alleges that he is a victim of (deep breath) ... Slander Per Se — Injury to Professional Reputation; Slander Per Se — Accusations of Criminal Conduct; Slander By Implication; Slander — Reckless Disregard/Malice; Libel Per Se — Injury to Professional Reputation; Libel Per Se — Accusations of Criminal Conduct; Libel By Implication; Libel — Reckless Disregard/Malice; and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.
"Goodell's Statements forever falsely taint and permanently damage Vilma, in the eyes of NFL Clubs, media, fans and sponsors, as a player who brazenly disregards NFL rules and intentionally attempts to injure his opponents," the suit concludes.
Vilma asks for "all compensatory damages he has suffered, including consequential and incidental damages, as a result of Goodell's wrongful conduct in an amount to be determined at trial ... punitive damages in a just amount for Goodell's willful and wanton conduct ... [and] pre-judgment and post-judgment interest."
In other words, Jonathan Vilma has gone to the mattresses, and there is no turning back. Right or wrong (and since the evidence isn't available, we don't really know), Roger Goodell had best be prepared for a serious battle.
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