NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans Saints' linebacker Jonathan Vilma has filed a defamation suit against the National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell over statements the defendants made about Saints' players intentionally injuring opposing players.
At issue is a March 2 press release in which Goodell and the NFL claimed that the Saints violated the "Bounty Rule" during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons.
The rule prevents NFL teams "from offering or paying bonuses to a player for his or his team's performance against a particular team, a particular opposing playing or players, or a particular group of an opposing team, or for an on-field misconduct, such as personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players."
The press release alleged that Saints coaches and defensive players had a bounty program where players contributed cash into a pool and received payments for "cart-offs" and "knockouts" (players carried from the game or unable to return to the game).
In addition, Goodell sent a March 2 Club Report to all 32 NFL member clubs. The report alleged in January 2010 that Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player that knocked opposing quarterback Brett Favre out of the game.
Following the press release and Club Report, Goodell and the NFL imposed discipline on the Saints, which included a $500,000 fine, a forfeit of second round draft picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts, suspension of Saints Head Coach Sean Payton and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis without pay for the 2012 NFL season, suspension of former Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams indefinitely from the NFL, and suspension of Saints Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt without pay for the first six regular season games of 2012.
Goodell issued a second press release and report on March 21, further discussing the alleged bounty program.
In May, Goodell imposed discipline on Saints players Scott Fujita, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Vilma.
Vilma was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 regular season. A third press release on May 2 repeated and expanded on previous statements.
According to the lawsuit, Goodell did not reveal any evidence regarding the alleged bounty program, despite repeated requests.
Vilma states that he never established or helped with establishing a bounty program and he did not pledge, make or receive payments of any kind encouraging or resulting from an opposing player being injured. He states that he never "targeted" an opposing player in any manner that would violate NFL rules.
The Commissioner is accused of making statements that were slanderous per se and libel per se because they injure Vilma's professional and personal reputation and because they allege Vilma was engaged in criminal conduct.
The plaintiff is asking the court for an award of compensatory damages, including consequential and incidental damages, punitive damages, interest, court costs, and attorney's fees.
Vilma is represented by New York attorney Peter R. Ginsberg and Conrad S.P. Williams III of Williams Law Group in New Orleans. A jury trial is requested.
U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan is assigned to the case.
Case No. 2:12-cv-01283