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Brees backs Vilma in fight vs. NFL

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NEW ORLEANS (AP)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees defended teammate Jonathan Vilma in a court document filed Saturday to support Vilma's fight against the NFL over his season-long suspension.

The affidavit was entered in New Orleans federal court as evidence for Vilma's motion to dismiss the 2012 suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for the linebacker's alleged involvement in a program offering bonuses to players who injure opponents. Vilma has sued Goodell, claiming defamation.

Brees, who signed a five-year, $100 million contract last week to stay with the Saints, also swears that he wasn't aware of any bounty program.

''I have no knowledge of a pay to injure program existing, and yet to personally see any evidence that would substantiate these allegations,'' Brees says in the affidavit. ''In my four years as a teammate with Jonathan, I have found that he is a man of integrity who passionately plays the game of football within the frameworks of the rules and has respect for his opponents.''

He also praises Vilma's leadership role on the team and his importance to the community. Brees says Vilma has been dedicated to helping the city recover from Hurricane Katrina and has started a foundation to build schools in Haiti.

''As a professional football player, our platform to reach our communities is directly driven by the manner in which we compete on the field,'' Brees said. ''Therefore, Jonathan's absence on the field will adversely affect his ability to impact the community in a positive way as a leader and a role model.''

Vilma and Saints coach Sean Payton have been suspended for the 2012 season for their roles in the bounty program the NFL says went on for three seasons.

Vilma was scheduled to have a hearing on his motion Thursday. The league wants the case dismissed because the collective bargaining agreement reached last August to end the lockout gives the commissioner the authority to punish players for ''conduct detrimental'' to the NFL.

The NFL Players Association has sued the league, claiming Goodell violated the league's labor agreement by showing he had pre-determined the guilt of players punished in the bounty probe before serving as the arbitrator for their June 18 appeal hearing.

Tagged: Saints, Jonathan Vilma, Drew Brees

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