NEW ORLEANS - The captain of the Saints defense was on the offensive Thursday about his alleged role in the bounty scandal.
Jonathan Vilma filed a defamation suit in federal court against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, claiming Goodell made false statements about him, damaging his personal and professional reputation.
The linebacker has been suspended for the 2012 season.
Vilma and his legal team are suing Goodell for monetary damages, denying Vilma played any role in a bounty program and saying Goodell slandered the linebacker in making statements to the contrary.
"Commissioner Goodell has been making very public, very serious, and erroneous accusations against Jonathan. This was the way we felt it was best for Jonathan to reclaim his reputation and to fight back," said Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, in an interview with WWL Radio.
"Its a pretty strong statement to essentially say the commissioner is making up this story and is lying about the evidence he has against Jonathan Vilma," said Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane's Sports Law program.
Feldman said it's a difficult case to win. Since Vilma is a public figure, there is a higher standard to prove defamation. He and his legal team must prove not only that false, damaging statements were made, but also actual malice, meaning that Goodell either knew he was making false statements and did so anyway, or had reckless disregard for the truth.
"I think what he might be trying to do here is not necessarily win the case get the money damages, but get the league, the commissioner to turn over some evidence of what he did," said Feldman.
Vilma and his team have repeatedly tried to see the evidence the NFL has against him. Saints fans are hoping that's exactly what happens.
"Glad he did it," said Saints fan James Lapeyre. "He forces all of this to become public record."
"I feel like there's been a lot of accusations against him and the team," said Saints fan Dan Rose. "I take it personally with the city, and I'm glad he has the courage and conviction that these things aren't true about him."
"I am excited to see some of the evidence come out in court," said Saints fan Steffanie Bangel. "I think that would be great given how much Goodell is keeping everything under wraps during this whole bounty gate situation."
"It will be interesting to see what the evidence is," said Kathy Lapeyre. "Is this a political play? I would like to see all of the other teams investigated."
It's a bold, unprecedented move in the NFL and Feldman believes it won't be the last suit Vilma files on the bounty issue.
Vilma was among those who filed appeals with the NFL. His first hearing was Wednesday. His second will be on May 30th.