“Bountygate” Birthed A Couple of Sport Defamation Lawsuits
Doesn’t look like the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal is going away anytime soon. In fact, Anthony Hargrove may be the next athlete to enter the sport defamation ring with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
As we reported last week, Jonathan Vilma is already suing Goodall for defamation over statements made regarding the Saint’s alleged “pay to injure” scheme.
Anthony Hargrove, former New Orleans’ Saint and current defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers, was one of the players implicated in the scandal.
“Pay Me My Money”
In an infamous 2010 NFC championship video, Hargrove can be seen mouthing to a teammate, “Favre is done.” He was also pegged as the person saying, “Pay me my money,” on the recording. But here’s the rub: the “money” statement was said “off camera,” eliminating definitive proof that Hargrove uttered the words. Moreover, Earl Heyman – another player –said he was sitting next to the individual who made the comment and it wasn’t Hargrove.
Celebrities Have It Harder
Hargrove is a celebrity, and therefore would have to prove “actual malice” to win this sport defamation lawsuit. Meaning, he would have to prove that the party that released the tape — and attributed Hargrove’s voice to the ostensibly incriminating statement — did so willfully and recklessly.
Teammate: It wasn’t Him
According to CBS Sports, “people close to the situation who say almost everyone on the Saints team knows the identity of the voice on the tape and they say it’s not Hargrove.” If CBS Sports is correct, and Hargrove can subpoena a gaggle of teammates who will swear he didn’t say “pay me my money,” the defensive tackle could pass the actual malice test. In other words, Hargrove has a chance at winning a defamation claim against Goodall if his attorneys file a narrow claim focusing only on the “pay me my money” statement.
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Update: 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
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.