Saint Claims Defamation in ‘Bounty’ Scandal

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – New Orleans Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma claims in Federal Court that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defamed him in suspending him without pay for a year on allegations that he had offered a $10,000 “bounty” to any teammate who knocked selected opponents out of a game.
     Vilma says in his complaint that the “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.”
     Vilma claims Goodell defamed him in public statements the commissioner made about Saints players this year.
     Beginning on “March 2, 2012, Goodell and the NFL, at Goodell’s direction, issued a press release alleging that Saints executives, coaches and defensive players had violated the NFL’s ‘Bounty Rule’ during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons,” the complaint states, citing a “March 2 Press Release’.”
     The NFL ‘bounty rule’ prohibits NFL players from offering bonuses to encourage certain acts against an opponent, including infliction of personal injuries.
     “Goodell, in his March 2 Press Release, alleged that Saints coaches and defensive players maintained a ‘bounty’ program … whereby players contributed cash into a pool and received ‘cash payments’ for, inter alia, ‘cart-offs’ (meaning that the opposing players was carried off the field) and ‘knockouts’ (meaning that the opposing player was not able to return to the game),” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Vilma has been a Saints linebacker and a captain of its defense since 2008, according to his complaint. He claims that Goodell’s March 2 press release and its contents were reported, and continue to be reported, by virtually every major news organization in the United States.
     “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,”‘ the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)
     “Goodell told others that Vilma placed $10,000 in cash on a table during a team meeting in making the alleged offer concerning Favre.”
     But Vilma says Goodell has never revealed any evidence that the Saints bounty program existed, or that Vilma participated in any such bounty system.
     Nevertheless, “on March 21, 2012, Goodell and the NFL, at Goodell’s direction, issued a press release detailing punishment to be imposed on the Saints and Saints personnel,” the complaint states.
     The Saints were fined $500,000 and had to forfeit second-round draft picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL Drafts.
     Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season.
     Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended without pay for the first eight regular season games of the 2012 season. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely from the NFL, and Saints Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt was suspended without pay for the first six regular season games of the 2012 season.
     In the same press release, Goodell “repeated the allegation that ‘several players pledged funds toward bounties on specific opposing players’ and that ‘defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offer[ed] $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010,'” the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)
     On May 2, Goodell suspended Vilma without pay for the entire 2012 season.
     Vilma claims that Goodell accused him of criminal conduct, that “Goodell’s statements concerned Vilma and were false,” that they “were widely publicized and not privileged in any manner,” and that they “were made with reckless disregard of their truth or falsity and/or with malice.”
     Vilma claims he “has devoted four years of his personal and professional life to the city and community of New Orleans. Goodell’s statements permanently damage Vilma’s personal reputation in Louisiana and around the world. Vilma will soon have to leave behind the world of professional football and will likely face difficulties in obtaining other employment and entering into new ventures as a result of Goodell’s false and defamatory statements.”
     He claims that “Goodell had no reasonable grounds for believing the truth of his statements. Goodell relied on, at best, hearsay, circumstantial evidence and lies in making the statements.”
     Vilma seeks damages for injury to personal reputation, accusations of criminal conduct, slander, libel, reckless disregard, and emotional distress.
     He is represented by Peter Ginsberg of New York City and Conrad Williams of New Orleans.

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