New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, May 07, 2012 7:29 PM
From the turf inside the Superdome to a courtroom inside a hall of justice, Bounty Gate is moving on up.
Jonathan Vilma, tagged by the NFL as public enemy No. 1 when it comes to the scandal, has exercised his right to appeal.
Vilma, the Saints linebacker who was tagged with a year’s suspension for his part in what is being described as a pay-for-pain system the Saints took part in over a three-year period.
While information is leaking out as to just what took place, Vilma wants his day in, well that’s where this gets tricky.
If he wants his day in court, that means it would be out of the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The big Commish has been wielding an even bigger stick over the past few years when it comes to handing down punishment to his league’s players and teams.
Vilma got the biggest dose.
Now the Saints linebacker, who denies his wrongdoing in the debacle, wants not only to see the evidence against him but also doesn’t want Goodell to be the only many to judge him.
Vilma probably saw how that worked out for his head coach, Sean Payton and other Saints officials when they went to the commissioner’s office and begged for forgiveness.
They got nothing and liked it.
Vilma does have a point. What good is the appeal process if the same guy who handed down the punishment in the first place is making the final decision?
It’s like begging your father for leniency after he’s already spanked you.
And nobody ever heard Goodell say this was going to hurt him more than it’s going to hurt Vilma or the Saints.
So Vilma wants to do an end run.
He hopes to have a third party, somebody not in the commissioner’s office, hear the appeal while getting help from the players’ union in the process.
In other words, Vilma is trying to get his case heard by a more sympathetic ear. It’s like going to mom after dad has grounded you for the rest of your life.
Mom usually can calm things down.
But this is the mother of all cases.
In essence, it comes down to a power struggle between the commissioner and the union.
For the record, the commissioner and owners lead this series 1-0 after last year’s lockout battle.
The players believe Vilma won’t get a proper hearing if Goodell is the only one listening. They might be right, but the union is in a tough spot.
Goodell has public opinion on his side. Perhaps not in Louisiana, but most of the country seems to be saying they are for player’s safety.
Now comes the hard part. The union can’t really support Vilma if he did take part in this scandal. Doing so would mean the union is going against any other player who was targeted by the Saints.
That puts the union in a no-win situation, especially when it backs retired players in their lawsuits against the league, claiming the NFL knew about the dangers of injuries like head trauma and did nothing to protect those guys.
The union appears to be wanting the best of both worlds, trying to be both defendant and plaintiff in what are extremely similar cases.
Thus, the players union is stuck between a rock and a very hard place. It is being asked which sons it likes better, the one who dished out the hits for pay or the ones who are believed to have taken the beating.
In the end the union can’t win.
So that’s why this is all likely to end up in some court before a judge who will not likely know all the facts or even have the power to decide.
Nothing is worse than when sports takes to the court rooms.
That’s when all the fun ends and the real games begin.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org