Was Jonathan Vilma really smack dab in the middle of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program? Before the NFC Championship game in January 2010, did Vilma really offer a cash reward of $10,000 to any teammate who was able to injure Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre?
For more than two months now, that's what the public has been led to believe, fed those above allegations by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. And Goodell took substantial punitive action May 2 when he suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season.
Now Vilma is fighting back. And not just with an appeal. He's going directly at Goodell and suing the NFL commissioner for a litany of, what he asserts, have been reckless accusations.
Vilma filed his lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court in Louisiana. A copy of the suit can be read here.
In a nutshell, this is Vilma's "Prove it" challenge to Goodell. All those allegations that have been circulating since early March? Vilma wants Goodell to reveal evidence and/or sources that corroborate what he claims to have found through an extensive investigation. The suit, itself, is fascinating. Represented by Peter R. Ginsberg Law, LLC and Williams Law Group, LLC, Vilma has accused Goodell of the following ...
- Slander Per Se – Injury to Professional Reputation
- Slander Per Se – Injury to Personal 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 – Injury to Personal Reputation
- Libel Per Se – Accusations of Criminal Conduct
- Libel By Implication
- Libel – Reckless Disregard/Malice
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
For those who have not taken a communications law class, slander involves defamation by the spoken word. Libel involves defamation by the written word.
It would seem Vilma is most interested in hearing the commissioner's defense for all he has alleged so publicly to this point about the bounty scandal. Where's the concrete evidence? Who are the sources?
In a May 2 press release issued by Goodell to explain his punishment of Vilma and the other implicated Saints players, the commissioner claimed Vilma “assisted Coach [Gregg] Williams in establishing and founding the [Bounty] program,” and “offered a specific bounty - $10,000 in cash – to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.”
Vilma's 16-page lawsuit, however, contends the following ...
- Vilma never “targeted” an opposing player in any manner that would violate NFL rules.
- Vilma never engaged “in unsafe and prohibited conduct intended to injure players.”
- Vilma never “participate[d] in a program that potentially injured opposing players.”
- Vilma never “embraced” a Bounty Program or any similar program in violation of NFL rules.
- Vilma never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, as an incentive to any player to knock Warner, Favre, or any other player, out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game, 2010 NFC Championship Game, or any other game.
- Vilma never placed $10,000, or any amount of money, on any table or anywhere else as part of a Bounty Program or any other program in violation of NFL rules.
Vilma accuses Goodell of making inflammatory statements damaging to his reputation. Says the suit:
"[The allegations] 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. Media will forever mention his name in the context of the Bounty investigation and fans will forever remember Vilma with ill repute rather than remember his substantial accomplishments on and off the field. In addition, NFL Clubs will be less likely to sign Vilma as a result of his tainted reputation and sponsors will be less likely to pay Vilma to promote their products and services."
It will be interesting to see how this litigation unfolds. The ball is back in Goodell's court now with Vilma's "Prove it" challenge waiting to be addressed.