Hell, yes, Jonathan Vilma should sue Roger Goodell.
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Someone has to stand against the NFL’s well-intentioned, but wildly out-of-control, dictator. The elite NFL media, seduced by access and/or high-paying jobs on the television networks partnered with the national pastime, won’t dare chop down Goodell to appropriate size, power and influence. And the NFL Players Association seemingly lacks the courage and resolve to regularly tussle with a commissioner corrupted by absolute power.
So, yeah, in an effort to get justice, Jonathan Vilma has no choice but to drag Goodell into a courtroom. On paper, Vilma is suing for defamation. In reality, Vilma is suing to overturn a grossly excessive yearlong suspension for his limited and largely unproven role in the Saints bounty scandal.
Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt — the New Orleans power structure that orchestrated, cultivated and embraced the bounty culture — confessed to and apologized for their email-documented and/or player-corroborated roles in the forbidden activity. Vilma has offered no confession or apology, and Goodell has yet to counter with hard and public evidence. Even if he has it, the yearlong suspension of Vilma is unfair, devoid of common sense and sets a dangerous precedent.
Vilma — a 30-year-old player — is being punished far more harshly than Goodell’s peers: Payton, Loomis and Vitt. A player has a short earning window. Vilma has played eight seasons. Knee injuries limited him last year. His career is winding down. He took a significant pay cut this offseason. The Saints signed several free-agent linebackers. Vilma’s suspension could be career-ending.
Payton, who also received a year-long suspension, can be an NFL head coach for the next 15 years. Vitt (six-game suspension) can be a high-paid assistant for the next 15 years. Loomis (four-game suspension) can hold a high-paying front-office job for the next 15 years. Goodell’s peers — with the exception of Williams (suspended indefinitely) — can easily recoup their losses.
The architects and the primary benefactors of the bounty scheme, the men who permanently enhanced their coaching resumes with a Super Bowl title, received lighter punishments than the defensive captain who has been trained since childhood to follow the lead of his coaches.
Hell, yes, Jonathan Vilma should sue. Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove — the other suspended players — should join Vilma’s lawsuit.
Football is militaristic. Adherence to chain of command is strictly enforced. Groupthink and submission to the will and values of the coaching staff are rewarded.
Vilma reflected his leaders. Does Goodell understand the culture he polices? I don’t think he does. I think Goodell lives inside the cocoon of delusion we in the media and public have created for him. It’s a cocoon that says professional athletes are stupid, irresponsible, lawless, spoiled, unworthy of their lofty salaries, undeserving of common respect and in desperate need of a law-and-order commissioner willing to discipline them.
Kernels of truth do not form the foundation for a sophisticated, mature and fair leadership strategy of a position as powerful as NFL commissioner. Kernels of truth often mislead. Vilma was a three-time Academic All-Big East player at Miami. Of Haitian descent, he started a charitable foundation in support of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Vilma shouldn’t be defined by his role in the Saints scandal.
Last July, in the aftermath of Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison’s anti-Goodell rant in Men’s Journal magazine, I wrote about the foolishness of Goodell electing himself as the front man for the NFL’s player-conduct policy and crackdown on dangerous hits.
Goodell set himself up as the target of player animosity. His supporters might argue it’s a courageous decision by a leader who is trying to implement historic change. They’re wrong. It’s bad business. It’s the immature action of a man in love with his press clippings and intent on establishing himself as the modern-day Pete Rozelle. It’s vanity, not integrity.
Goodell wants us — media, fans, players, coaches, executives — to blindly trust that his motives are pure and just. No way. Trust the man/woman who tells you to solely trust his/her level of transparency and his/her willingness to have his/her actions vigorously questioned and reviewed.
Goodell is a self-appointed Supreme Court justice. He makes all the rulings in the lower courts and then allows the men he governs to file appeals in his Supreme Court.
Hell, yes, Jonathan Vilma should sue Roger Goodell. Vilma has no choice. The NFL doesn’t have a system of checks and balances in place to oversee the commissioner. Goodell potentially delivered a death knell to Vilma’s career.
Even if he got caught up in the bounty culture fostered by the Saints’ leaders, does Vilma deserve that, a suspension far more punitive than the one received by Payton?
Hell, no. I hope Vilma wins his defamation lawsuit or Goodell is forced in a court of law to reveal the evidence that justifies such harsh punishment.