After weeks of offering periodic commentary regarding the allegations of a bounty program maintained for three years by the Saints, quarterback Drew Brees has taken a direct, active role in the effort to block the suspension of his teammate, linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
In an affidavit submitted in connection with Vilma’s effort to overturn his suspension and, more immediately, to delay the suspension until the litigation concludes, Brees explains that Vilma should not be suspended.
Largely meaningless as to most of the legal issues that will determine whether the suspension is delayed and/or overturned, Brees’ affidavit has arguable relevance as to one of the specific factors for issuing an injunction against the suspension pending resolution of the lawsuit: the public interest.
At paragraph 3 of the affidavit, a copy of which PFT has obtained, Brees says that the suspension prevents Vilma from “continuing to fulfill the leadership position he has assumed with our team since 2008, as one of the Defensive Team Captains since 2009, and off the field as mentor to young players and in the community.” At paragraph 9, Brees says that Vilma “has also exhibited a dedication to helping the New Orleans community recover from Katrina and its economic struggles.” At paragraph 10, Brees says that Vilma’s suspension “will have a significant impact on our team and within our community.”
It’s unknown whether the affidavit will help Vilma delay or ultimately avoid a suspension. But it can’t hurt.
The affidavit also touches on the semantics-driven heart of the bounty dispute. At paragraph 8, Brees says, “It is my understanding that Mr. Goodell has accused members of our defense, including Jonathan, of engaging in a pay to injure program that involved offering financial incentives to teammates to intentionally injure opposing players.”
While the league arguably has overstated the allegations from time to time for P.R. purposes, the suspensions flow from offering financial incentives to apply good, clean, legal hits in a way that result in injury. There’s no specific intent to injure; the intent is to apply good, clean, legal hits. If a good, clean, legal hit kept the person who absorbs the good, clean, legal hit from playing, then the player delivering the hit received extra money for a “cart-off” (if the player returned to the game later) or a “knockout” (if he didn’t return at all).
Brees is smart enough to know this. He’s also smart enough to know that, unless and until the league is willing to embrace the debate that would result from a clear, unequivocal explanation that suspensions were imposed for a system that encouraged players simply to do the jobs they already were paid to do (i.e., apply good, clean, legal hits), Brees’ skewed explanation of the allegations won’t be challenged.