“Even though matter has been pending only since May, it feels as protracted and painful as the Saints season itself, and calls for closure.”
– U.S. District Court judge Ginger Berrigan
Is Bountygate finally over? Practically. A YouWager news source in New Orleans reports that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation suit against Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, was formally dismissed by a federal judge. Vilma’s complaint was filed in May and outlined 11 claims. But U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan ruled in favor of Goodell’s motion to dismiss it. Vilma’s attorneys claimed Roger Goodell made false statements about Vilma that tarnished his reputation when Goodell spoke about the NFL’s investigation into a system that allegedly paid out cash bonuses to players for making big hits during the 2009 NFL football betting season, and continuing into the 2011 season.
In her decision, Judge Berrigan also chastised the league. She wrote, “The Court nonetheless believes that had this matter been handled in a less heavy handed way, with greater fairness toward the players and the pressures they face, this litigation and the related cases would not have been necessary.”
As YouWager’s serious NFL football bettors will remember, Commissioner Goodell originally suspended Vilma for the entire NFL football wagering season. But Vilma was able to play while he appealed. The three other banned players got shorter suspensions. When former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was appointed to hear a round of player appeals, he essentially dismissed the
suspensions last month.
Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman said, in a comment to YouWager’s source, that neither he nor Goodell have any comment about Judge Berrigan’s ruling.
Peter Ginsberg, one of Vilma’s attorneys, said in a written statement, “We are obviously disappointed, strongly believe that the CBA does not give anyone – including a commissioner – a license to misrepresent and to manufacture facts, especially at the expense of another person’s reputation – and are considering our options.”
Vilma’s lawsuit referred to six statements made by Roger Goodell. These included NFL news releases, letters to the 32 teams in the league, and an interview with the NFL Network.
Judge Berrigan wrote, “Vilma maintains that Goodell is responsible for the allegedly offending statements in his individual capacity.” The judge called this claim “unpersuasive.” She wrote, “The Court finds that all of the allegedly offensive statements were made by Goodell as Commissioner of the NFL in conjunction with the investigation resulting in the now well-known discipline against Vilma and others associated with the Saints. While the Court is extremely disturbed by the fundamental lack of due process in Goodell’s denying the players the identities of and the right to confront their accusers, that was substantially rectified later in the process. So while the process was initially procedurally flawed, the statements were ultimately found to have enough support to defeat the defamation claims.”
Gabe Feldman, a law professor at Tulane University, told YouWager’s source that Judge Berrigan’s ruling ends most of the litigation involved with the Bountygate scandal in New Orleans.