NFL Bountygate Leads To Sport Defamation Lawsuit

sport defamation case studyUpdate: January 17th, 2013. Judge Helen Berrigan dismissed Jonathan Vilma’s sport defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell. She reasoned: “While the Court is extremely disturbed by the fundamental lack of due process in (Commissioner) Goodell’s denying the players the identities and the right to confront their accusers, that was substantially rectified later in the process.”

***Original Article ***

In an off-season loaded with litigation, the NFL has given birth to yet another scandal — the alleged New Orleans Saints’ injury-for-money scheme.

‘Bountygate’ Background: The Makings of a Sport Defamation Lawsuit

What’s “bountygate”?

Well, allegedly, someone in the Saints ranks developed a slush fund to award bonuses for injuring opposing athletes. The investigations began in 2010, but the NFL swept it under the AstroTurf for awhile.

But by March 2012, the NFL couldn’t ignore the clamor; evidence pointed to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and about 20 odd players. According to reports, Williams and the team members pooled personal money to support the kitty. Some outlets even insinuated that head coach Sean Payton may have attempted a cover up.

NFL Decides To Play Hardball

When team owner, Tom Benson, ordered Payton and general manager, Mickey Loomis, to shut down the scheme, Loomis and Payton supposedly complied. Around this time, whispers circulated that Williams may have ran the same scheme when he was defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins and the Tennessee Oilers/Titans.

Whatever the case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to bring down the hammer. The carnage:

  • Williams – suspended indefinitely
  • Payton – 2012 season suspension
  • Loomis – eight 2012 season game suspension
  • Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt – six 2012 season game suspension
  • Saints organization – $500,000 fine and forfeiture of their second round draft choices for 2012 & 2013 seasons
  • Jonathan Vilma – suspended for 2012 season
  • Defensive End Will Smith – suspended for four 2012 games
  • Former Saints defender Anthony Hargrove – suspended for eight games
  • Former Saints defender Scott Fujita – suspended for three games

In May 2012, the NFL Players Association arbitrated against two of the suspension grievances and challenged Goodell’s authority to discipline players. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that Goodell’s authority does allow him to mete out punishment. The union is appealing the ruling.

Vilma Tackles Goodell With A Defamation Lawsuit

Not willing to take the penalties, Jonathan Vilma filed a sport defamation lawsuit against Goodell on May 17, 2012. He claimed his good name was dragged through the proverbial mud by Commissioner Goodell. Goodell has until July 5, 2012 to respond to Vilma’s claim.


Kelly / Warner is a top-rated law firm that handles all manners of defamation cases, including sport defamation. To learn more about our practice, start here.

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