Saints’ linebacker sues NFL commissioner for defamation

Jonathan Vilma claims his reputation was tarnished because of comments made about his role in the team’s bounty scandal

New Orleans Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma may not be allowed to tackle any National Football League (NFL) players on the gridiron next season, but he will try to take down his employer in a court of law.

Vilma, who was suspended for the entirety of the NFL’s 2012 season for his role in the bounty scandal, filed a defamation lawsuit in New Orleans district court last Thursday against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, claiming the league’s head made false statements, tarnished his reputation and hindered his ability to play football.

Goodell has called Vilma out as the leader of the team’s bounty program, which awarded thousands of dollars for hits that took other teams’ star players out of games from 2009 to 2011.

“Commissioner Goodell opted to make very public and unfortunately erroneous allegations against Jonathan,” said Vilma’s attorney Peter Ginsberg, according to the Associated Press.“ By making these false and public statements, he has significantly harmed Jonathan’s reputation and ability to make a living. By suing Commissioner Goodell in court, Jonathan opted to use a fair playing field where he has procedural rights and protections to remedy the harm Commissioner Goodell has done to him.”

A handful of other current and former Saints defensive players—Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith—also received suspensions for their roles in the scandal, albeit receiving lesser penalties. Each player has appealed his suspension.

For his part, Vilma still vehemently denies that he participated in the program.

“As I’ve said before..I NEVER PAID, NOR INTENDED TO PAY ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY, TO ANY PLAYER FOR INTENTIONALLY HURTING AN OPPONENT,” Vilma posted on his Twitter account.

Vilma asserts in the lawsuit that Goodell “knew and intended” that he would suffer emotional distress when the commissioner announced the findings of its investigation into the bounty program.

“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,” the suit states. “ Media will forever mention his name in the context of the Bounty investigation and fans will remember Vilma with ill repute rather than remember his substantial accomplishments on the field.”

Vilma’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

For more on the defamation suit, read the AP report and Sports Illustrated.

For InsideCounsel’s previous coverage of the Saints’ bounty scandal, read:

NFL bounty programs could land teams in court

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