After being barred from going after opposing quarterbacks in 2012, Jonathan Vilma is now going after the biggest bounty of them all — NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. Last week, Vilma sued Goodell for defamation based on Goodell’s accusations that Vilma participated in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.
As any self-respecting sports fan (or anyone else who doesn’t live here) knows by now, the NFL recently discovered that Saints coaches and players created a system by which the players would receive monetary bonuses for knocking opposing players out of a game with injury. (And you know a scandal is serious when it gets its own Wikipedia page.) Goodell claims Vilma was at the center of that program, going so far as to promise $10,000 of his own money to anyone who knocked Brett Favre (and later Kurt Warner) out of a playoff game. Vilma insists that he did not take part in the bounty program, that he never offered money to his teammates to take out Brett Favre or Kurt Warner and that Goodell had no reasonable basis on which to make those allegations. Vilma seeks unspecified damages for the harm to his reputation caused by Goodell’s statements.
As my regular readers (somebody must read this stuff, right?) should know by now, I’m a football fan, so the idea of an NFL player suing the almighty Roger Goodell is fascinating stuff. Since becoming commissioner in 2006, Goodell has become the judge, jury and executioner regarding player (and coach) misconduct. Players who get in trouble must go meet with Goodell (presumably to kiss the brass ring, or maybe just something that rhymes with the “brass” part) and then await his punishment without any rules or guidelines on how that punishment will be administered. But don’t worry: if the player (or coach) believes the punishment is unjust, he can always appeal to — guess who? — Goodell. Although Goodell has, on occasion, reduced a player’s punishment, it happens rarely and there is little explanation of why. (Doesn’t really seem fair to me, but I’m just a Bills fan…and Bills players never do anything wrong… Or, in recent years, right.) It’s safe to assume that more than one NFL player out there (like Goodell’s BFF James Harrison) would offer a chunk out of his salary to have someone take Goodell down a peg or twelve.
So, the real question for us here at Law Law Land is: does Vilma stand any chance of winning and forcing Goodell to change his ways? Probably not. Here’s why.