The New Orleans Saints Bounty Scandal remains in the news on Thursday as suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The lawsuit contains eleven claims related to slander, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Here are the eleven claims Vilma set forth in his complaint:
1. Slander Per Se - Injury to Professional Reputation
2. Slander Per Se - injury to Professional Reputation
3. Slander Per Se - Accusations of Criminal Conduct
4. Slander by Implication
5. Slander - Reckless Disregard/Malice
6. Libel Per Se - Injury to Professional Reputation
7. Libel Per Se - Injury to Professional Reputation
8. Libel Per Se - Accusations of Criminal Conduct
9. Libel by Implication
10. Libel - Reckless Disregard/Malice
11. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Just to clarify, generally speaking, slander applies to spoken word, while libel deals with the written and published word. There are a variety of distinctions that can be made depending on the circumstance, but that is the basic difference for the purposes of this lawsuit.
In the background section, Vilma describes the numerous statements Goodell made in discussing the bounty scandal and pointing to Vilma directly by name, or by implication when discussing Vilma in terms of one of the "leaders among defensive players."
Vilma's complaint then goes on to describe all of these statements to be made based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence at best, and lies at worst. Furthermore, throughout the eleven claims for relief, Vilma states that Goodell made these statements with no reasonable ground for believing their truth and in fact made them with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity and/or with outright malice.
Vilma uses the allegations to deny any involvement in a bounty program. In paragraph 35, Vilma denies establishing or assisting in establishing a bounty program. In paragraphs 36 through 38, he denies pledging, receiving or making payments for various hits. He denies targeting opposing players in any way that would violate NFL rules and denies getting involved in any program that could potentially injure players.
Each of the first ten complaints is meant to cover the numerous statements Roger Goodell made on the issue, with each statement constitution a form of defamation. The final claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress claims that Goodell's conduct was extreme and outrageous, it caused Vilma to suffer severe emotional distress, and Goodell knew and intended that Vilma would suffer severe emotional distress as a result of his Statements and conduct.
The strongest defense against a defamation lawsuit is the truth. If the NFL has sufficient evidence on hand, a simple release would be enough to get this lawsuit dismissed, or at least make for an easy victory in front of a jury. The NFLPA has voiced numerous complaints about the league refusing to turn over their evidence in the bounty scandal.
This lawsuit would seem to be meant in large part as a weapon for getting more evidence released. There have been reports the league will consider releasing some of the evidence, and this might further force their hand. At the same time, the vehement denials by Jonathan Vilma, which are now officially on the record in the Louisiana court system, will leave us wondering how this will play out if and when more evidence comes to light.