New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who has been suspended for a full season for his role in the Saints bounty program, sued Roger Goodell for defamation in a Louisiana District Court on Thursday.
Vilma has been fighting his suspension tooth and nail so far, including appealing the ruling directly to Goodell, and having the players union argue to an independent arbitrator that Goodell doesn't have the right to punish players.
But this third tactic may be his most clever. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Goodell can punish players unilaterally for their transgressions; he doesn't even need to provide any evidence.
However, in a court of law, the rules on evidence are a bit stricter. The court cannot reinstate Vilma for the season, and it is unlikely that Vilma is concerned with any monetary gains he could get from the commissioner, but the evidence is what Vilma is after.
When he was suspended initially, he filed a request to see the evidence against him that Roger Goodell had gathered. The NFL denied that request. When the Eastern District Court of Louisiana asks, the NFL will not be able to say no.
It remains to be seen what Vilma expects to accomplish. Perhaps he feels that he has been unfairly singled out among the Saints players simply because he is the best known member of that defense. Perhaps it is an attempt to call the NFL's bluff, perhaps Vilma truly feels defamed. No matter the reason, the implication is clear, if Goodell wants to defend himself from this lawsuit they are going to have to prove their case against Vilma, in public.
Below is the full filing from the Eastern District of Louisiana.