Vilma’s Suit Shows Moxie, If Nothing Else

I have to tell you, I’m impressed with Jonathan Vilma’s intestinal fortitude in suing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

When I first heard of the suit and read Vilma’s tweet, “As I’ve said before..I NEVER PAID, NOR INTENDED TO PAY ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY,TO ANY PLAYER FOR INTENTIONALLY HURTING AN OPPONENT,” I figured he was in the courts to maybe shake up Goodell, get the public behind him and perhaps stir up public sentiment against Goodell. With that statement, what Vilma didn’t say was most important to me. That he neglected to say he never offered money for hurting an opponent was the key. He could offer a reward, but never pay or intend to pay off the debt.

However, Vilma’s denials in the suit are extraordinary. He claims he “never established, or assisted in establishing, a Bounty Program or any similar program in violation of NFL rules.”

Vilma also claims that he never “pledged,” made or received payments of any kind encouraging or resulting from an opposing player being carried off the field, i.e. “cart-offs.” He says he never “pledged,” made or received payments of any kind encouraging or resulting from an opposing player being unable to return to the game, i.e., “knockouts.” He says that he never “pledged,” made or received payments of any kind resulting from an opposing player being injured. And the coup de grace: In his lawsuit, Vilma claims he “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.”

Those statements are in direct conflict with the league’s assertion that Vilma did offer the $10,000. In his statement announcing Vilma’s suspension, Goodell wrote, “Linebacker Jonathan Vilma of the Saints is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions. The investigation concluded that while a captain of the defensive unit Vilma assisted Coach (Gregg) Williams in establishing and funding the program. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma 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 the following week (played on January 24, 2010). Vilma is eligible to be reinstated after the Super Bowl in 2013.”

Clearly, several people told NFL investigators about Vilma’s “pledge,” thus the “multiple independent sources.” Goodell must have some good information to make those assertions in his statement.

Perhaps Vilma is trying to smoke out those who told the story. Maybe he’s in denial about his guilt. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks Goodell will be intimidated. He did tweet “maybe this will get some people attention.”

Unfortunately, there probably isn’t a positive result for Vilma here. It’s his lawsuit. Multiple people are going to have to take the stand, under oath, and tell their story about him. The league says that between 22 and 27 players were involved in the program. Right now, we only know four of them. Vilma’s lawsuit, if it moves forward, will reveal all of those guys. They’ll be unhappy with him, as will the guys who participated in interviews but don’t want it known. And, of course, Goodell isn’t going to be too happy with Vilma, either.

If he’s right, this is one of the greatest conspiracies of all time. The league went to the trouble to interview lots of people, and has a 50,000-page report. Roger Goodell may be a lot of things, but dumb isn’t one of them. If he was duped into thinking this happened – and it didn’t – this will be the NFL’s story of the year. And it’s going to take a looooong time to traverse the federal court system.

Vilma must think his career is over because of this suspension. Because if he has any thoughts of playing again, that possibility will go out the window as soon as a witness is called in this case.