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Vilma’s efforts lead judge to request bounty documents from NFL

NEW ORLEANS – A federal magistrate judge has ordered NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to provide the court with documents related to the league’s bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints.

The order by Magistrate Daniel Knowles on Tuesday came in response to suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s efforts to initiate the discovery process in his defamation case against the commissioner. Vilma has said the NFL has allowed him to review only a fraction of documents related to bounty matter.

Knowles issued a compromise order in which only the court, and not Vilma, may see the documents – including reports of interviews with witnesses – before a subsequent order is made on whether to allow discovery to proceed.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said league officials have discussed the order with Knowles and have agreed to comply.

The order comes a day after Vilma refiled a related lawsuit in the same New Orleans federal court asking for his seasonlong suspension to be overturned. That lawsuit also has argued that the NFL has failed to fully disclose its evidence in the bounty investigation.

The NFLPA filed a similar request on behalf of three other current or former Saints players suspended in the probe: Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (seven games) and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita (one game).

The players’ lawsuits contend that Goodell is incapable of acting as a neutral arbitrator in the bounty matter, in large part because his public statements soon after the NFL’s investigation was made public last March indicated that he already had determined the guilt of the players before the disciplinary process began.

Vilma, who has his own lawyers, and the NFLPA also contend that the bulk of witness testimony in the bounty probe came from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints defensive assistant Mike Cerullo. They both have provided the NFL with sworn declarations backing allegations that the Saints had a pool that rewarded defensive players with cash for hits that injured opponents, and that Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009-10 NFC title game.

Attorneys for the punished players say those two witnesses lack credibility because Williams is suspended indefinitely and his reinstatement hinges on his cooperation, and because Cerullo was fired by the Saints and had a vendetta against the club.

All four of the players are technically eligible to play this weekend because their appeals of their suspensions within the framework of the NFL’s labor agreement are pending. Goodell has scheduled their appeal hearings for Oct. 23 and could rule soon afterward.

In the meantime, the players are hoping U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan ultimately will issue a ruling that voids Goodell’s decision to suspend the players and order a neutral arbitrator to handle any further discipline in the matter.

Steelers’ Harrison proactive on protection: At Pittsburgh, Steelers linebacker James Harrison didn’t want to wait for the NFL to do something about protecting his head, so the four-time Pro Bowler decided to do it himself.

After enduring what he estimated as “double digit” bouts with concussion-like symptoms throughout his decadelong career, Harrison began using a special layer of padding inside his helmet last fall and is pleased with the results.

“I haven’t seen any spots or had any blackouts,” Harrison said Tuesday.

Harrison was the first NFL player to use the CRT padding developed by Unequal Technologies inside his helmet. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick began using a flak jacket lined with military-grade Kevlar during the 2010 season, but Harrison was the first player to put the quarter-inch padding in his helmet.

He’s been joined by around 100 players over the last 12 months and feels the extra weight (about 3-4 ounces) is worth the feeling of safety it provides.

“To protect my head I’d take a pound more,” Harrison said.

The outspoken 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year believes the movement could catch on. One of the NFL’s fiercest hitters, Harrison says he played through concussion-like symptoms in the past but as he’s aged has become more wary of the long-lasting impact repeated head shots can have on a player’s future health.

“If something works, I’m going to use it,” he said.

London’s calling – twice: At Chicago, the league announced Tuesday that the Minnesota Vikings will host the Pittsburgh Steelers at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will host the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley on Oct. 27, 2013. This is the first time the NFL will play two regular-season games in London in the same season.

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