Is Jonathan Vilma Insane?

Last week, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who has been suspended for the entire season amidst allegations that he was a ringleader in the team’s bounty scandal, filed a defamation of character lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Per Judy Battista in the NY Times:

The lawsuit, Vilma v. Goodell, was filed in United States District Court in New Orleans. It says, “Goodell, speaking publicly about certain Saints executives, coaches and players, in relation to purported efforts designed to injure players, made public statements concerning Vilma which were false, defamatory and injurious to Vilma’s professional and personal reputation.”

The lawsuit contains a blanket denial of the league’s claims about Vilma’s involvement in bounty activities. It said that Vilma was not involved in establishing a bounty system and that he never pledged, made or received payments encouraging, or resulting from, hits that injured opponents. The suit also said Vilma never targeted a player in a way that would violate N.F.L. rules, and that he never paid or intended to pay $10,000 or any amount to knock Favre, Kurt Warner or any other player from a game.

Photo credit: USA Today

That Vilma was silent when the initial allegations came out and only offered this flagrant denial after he had been suspended for the season convicts him in the court of Sports Rapport opinion. It seems insane that the NFL would fabricate evidence in this situation: given that only four players (and just two current Saints) were suspended, I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that Goodell genuinely has the goods on Vilma.

CBSSports’ Mike Freeman reports that Saints players feel they are being “railroaded.

For the past several weeks, some Saints players have contacted me, saying those accused in the bounty case, as well as the team itself, have been treated unfairly by the media (including by me). They spoke on the condition their identities were protected, fearing retribution from the NFL (in fact, Saints players said repeatedly that it can’t be overstated just how much people in that locker room right now fear the NFL).

So I listened as some as Saints players told their side. What they said was somewhat eye-opening.

The overall message is that the NFL really doesn’t have proof of a bounty system, and if it did, it would release that proof.

I can kind of sort of see the Saints’ point but if it had proof based on corroboration of anonymous sources, the NFL would NOT release that proof. Responding to Freeman’s piece on ProFootballTalk, Mike Florio gets at Vilma’s motive for the defamation suit:

The league continues to refuse to produce raw evidence of the existence of a bounty program, arguing that all witnesses should be given full protection from any disclosure of their names — a skewed, unrealistic interpretation of the duties that an organization owes to a whistleblower.  And that’s one of the reasons why Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has sued Commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation.  Not only will Goodell be required, at some point, to prove that the accusations against Vilma are true by disclosing evidence of guilt, but Vilma’s lawyer also will be able to use the lawsuit as a vehicle to explore, to scrutinize, and to challenge the investigation.

Perhaps the league has plenty of evidence to support that there truly was a bounty system.  Until the league chooses to find a way to make enough of that evidence available to make the rest of us believe that a bounty system actually existed, suspicions reasonably will persist.

As I said before, if Vilma was truly innocent of these allegations, why did he not scream bloody murder when they first came to light instead of waiting two months to be punished for them?

If this suit goes to court, Vilma will have to testify under oath. If he is indeed correct that Goodell manufactured evidence and dishonestly made him a scapegoat, this would be one of the most fascinating sports stories of all-time. My guess, however, is that Vilma has gotten some bad advice by his legal team, perhaps more concerned with racking up billable hours than Vilma’s best interests. If Vilma lies under oath in a trial that he initiated, he is avoiding the lesson that pro athletes (and everyone else) should have learned from Roger Clemens: The best way to save on legal fees is to not lie in the first place.

Perhaps, though, Goodell and the league will opt to settle this lawsuit so they are not compelled under oath to reveal their sources of information. If THAT is the case, then Vilma should be applauded for his savvy if not his integrity.


One Response to Is Jonathan Vilma Insane?

  1. A dude says:

    5th amendment means that vilma does not have to testify at all. It’s his case and he can decide if he wants to make a statement under oath.

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