Last year, the lockout dominated the offseason storylines in the NFL. This year, the punishments doled out for the New Orleans Saints bounty program, and the aftermath, will be what dominates the offseason headlines.
If any of you have fallen behind on what has been going on with this situation over the past few weeks or so, check out SB Nation's Storystream to get caught up. Back on May 7, all four players who were suspended, including Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, appealed their suspensions. Fujita's suspension has a direct impact on the Browns, because it means the team will have to place more emphasis on preparing a guy like Kaluka Maiava or James-Michael Johnson to be a starting outside linebacker to begin the season.
Also on May 7, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, one of the four suspended players, made a signed declaration stating that he was told to lie about the bounty programs by coaches (although Hargrove never admits that there was a bounty program, as contrived as that sounds). In the days that followed, NFLPA president Dominique Foxworth was calling for evidence from the league, asking, "We know a coach crossed the line, but where is the evidence that any players actually committed themselves financially or tactically to carrying out a "bounty" program?"
This past Wednesday, reports surfaced that the NFL might come forward and release some evidence of player involvement in the scandal, but that there would need to be a way to protect the anonymous sources who revealed information in confidence. Then, on Thursday, that's when the "bomb shell" was dropped, if you'd like to call it that -- linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the player who received the most stern punishment, filed a lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation.
The lawsuit contains eleven claims related to slander, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. There are eleven claims Vilma set forth in his complaint.
Vilma's complaint then goes on to describe all of these statements to be made based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence at best, and lies at worst. Furthermore, throughout the eleven claims for relief, Vilma states that Goodell made these statements with no reasonable ground for believing their truth and in fact made them with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity and/or with outright malice.
Vilma uses the allegations to deny any involvement in a bounty program. In paragraph 35, Vilma denies establishing or assisting in establishing a bounty program. In paragraphs 36 through 38, he denies pledging, receiving or making payments for various hits. He denies targeting opposing players in any way that would violate NFL rules and denies getting involved in any program that could potentially injure players.
The strongest defense against a defamation lawsuit is the truth. If the NFL has sufficient evidence on hand, a simple release would be enough to get this lawsuit dismissed, or at least make for an easy victory in front of a jury. The NFLPA has voiced numerous complaints about the league refusing to turn over their evidence in the bounty scandal.
What do you guys think about this law suit? Is this something that will just blow over without much of an impact, or will this suit help get the ball rolling in terms of more information being unveiled by the league? And, I'm not sure if I need to ask this or not, but is there a "side" you would take in Vilma vs. Goodell?