So with Commissioner Roger Goodell defending himself against Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit by claiming that the Collective Bargaining Agreement blocks the allegations, what will Vilma do to get around what appears to be a strong argument rooted in basic principles of labor law?
Vilma will claim that Goodell went beyond the borders of the CBA when making public statements regarding Vilma’s alleged role in the bounty program.
“Jonathan’s defamation lawsuit focuses exclusively on statements Mr. Goodell has made publicly and outside the confines of the CBA,” lawyer Peter Ginsberg tells Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal. “Mr. Goodell, like all citizens, must abide by certain standards and laws. Having the title of ‘Commissioner’ does not provide Mr. Goodell with a license to make the accusations and allegations he has made against Jonathan in public forums without facing the same scrutiny as other citizens.”
The league surely will contend that the public comments were directly related to and arose from the suspensions, and that given the tremendous popularity of and public interest in the NFL the comments were necessary. Vilma, via Ginsberg, likely will argue that no comment was needed beyond the basic announcement of the suspension, which the league employees when suspending players for violation of the substance-abuse policy or the steroids policy.
The outcome of this issue will go a long way toward determining whether Ginsberg will be able to use the discovery process to get to the truth, whatever the truth may be.