The evidence against Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma includes considerably more than a page of handwritten notes.
During Monday afternoon’s appeal hearing in the bounty case, NFL outside counsel Mary Jo White explained to the players and lawyers present (including at least one lawyer from the office of linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s counsel, Peter Ginsberg) that three persons corroborated the claim that Vilma offered $10,000 to any member of the Saints defense who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game.
“Mr. [Gregg] Williams and Mr. [Mike] Ornstein and another member of the Saints defensive coaching staff, all of whom were present at the meeting, all stated to NFL investigators that Mr. Vilma pledged $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the next week’s NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings,” White said according to the official transcript, a copy of which PFT has obtained. “All three witnesses stated that the amount of this bounty was $10,000.”
Vilma’s offer allegedly sparked a tidal wave of similar gestures.
“According to one of the witnesses present at the meeting, the bounty offered by Mr. Vilma prior to the NFC championship game inspired additional players to pledge money for injury-producing hits or potentially injury-producing hits against opposing players or for other types of plays during the game,” White said. “Mr. Vitt told NFL investigators that this meeting, quote, got out of hand, unquote. NFL investigators were informed that a member of the defensive coaching staff kept track of the various pledges made by players at this meeting.”
White also said that an unnamed witness provided the following quote regarding Vilma’s behavior before the prior week’s game: “‘In the NFC divisional playoffs, the Saints faced the Arizona Cardinals. During a meeting of the defense the night before the game in January 2010, Jonathan Vilma, a Saints defensive captain, asked for permission to address the team, which was granted,. Mr. Vilma, in the course of giving a motivational speech to the team, stated, while raising his hands, each of which held stacks of bills, that he had two five stacks, which I understood to mean $10,000, for anyone who knocked Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of the game.'” White said that the quote was independently confirmed by Mike Ornstein.
The problem continues to be that the NFL chose not to make Williams or Ornstein or the unnamed witness available to testify on Monday, and none of the three persons ever have addressed those claims, in any setting. And so we’re all left to take the NFL’s word for it.
The NFL’s word may be the truth. But when the three persons are all still, you know, alive, it would be nice to hear it from their mouths before completely believing it.
And that perhaps is and will continue to be the biggest question, which may never be answered. What will an assistant coach who may have been (and likely still is) motivated by saving his career, a twice-convicted felon who still hopes to have access to NFL events (and inexplicably still does), and an unnamed person who may be a disgruntled former Saints employee say, if ever asked about these matters, especially if asked about them under oath?