National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell won dismissal of a defamation lawsuit by New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Vilma sued the commissioner in May after Goodell suspended him for the entire 2012 NFL season for allegedly participating in a team program to reward players for violent hits that injured opposing players or knocked them out of games.
Acting as an impartial arbitrator of a challenge to that sanction, Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, last month reversed Vilma’s punishment and those of three other players, faulting Saints management instead. U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan in New Orleans said yesterday in her ruling that a defamation claim arising from an arbitration involving discipline had to be dismissed.
“Even according to the plaintiff’s own complaint, the defamation claims are directly related to Goodell’s decision to suspend, that is discipline, Vilma,” under the collective bargaining agreement that governs the league’s relationship with its players and their union, Berrigan said.
Tagliabue’s Dec. 11 ruling applied only to players, leaving intact a full-season suspension of Saints head coach Sean Payton and the indefinite suspension of now-former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Tagliabue led the NFL from November 1989 to August 2006.
Greg Aiello, chief spokesman for the New York-based 32-team league, declined to comment on yesterday’s decision.
Vilma accused Goodell of making defamatory statements about his role in the bounty scheme.
“We are obviously disappointed,” Peter Ginsberg, a lawyer for Vilma, said in an e-mailed statement. He said the player’s legal team was considering its options.
The union contract “does not give anyone -- including a commissioner -- a license to misrepresent and to manufacture facts, especially at the expense of another person’s reputation,” Ginsberg said.
The Saints finished the past season with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs.
On Jan. 20, the San Francisco 49ers will play the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta to decide the National Football Conference champion. Later that day, the Baltimore Ravens will play the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts, to determine the American Football Conference team to face the NFC game winner in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
The case is Vilma v. Goodell, 12-cv-01283, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).