The reports that the NFL is looking to settle Jonathan Vilma’s definition suit shows somebody in the NFL hierarchy realizes the league overstepped its bounds in disciplining players in the Bountygate scandal. Backing down now and settling sets a dangerous precedent. The league is inviting players to use the courts as leverage against the league in disciplinary matters. The only worse outcome would be a precedent-setting courtroom defeat where the league had to pay damages and repay Vilma’s lost wages.
The league suspended the Saints players without showing the accused or the media the overwhelming majority of the evidence. Their sham appeals were heard by the same guy who had found them guilty and sentenced them in the first place. The Valkyrie conspirators likely received more due process before being hung by piano wire.
Drew Brees has eloquently attacked the investigation and punishment at every turn. When he says the commissioner has no credibility with the players, he is absolutely right.
Vilma has a case and the league knows it. Whether its one of the league’s lawyers, owners or Goodell himself, they know they’re in a pickle. At this point, the best of several bad choices is to settle. They can make the lawsuit go away and, if Vilma still serves eight games, it is still a stiff penalty that sends the desired message.
The league would save itself grief like this in the future if they gave the players a measure of due process. Unfortunately, the NFL Players Association was too weak at the negotiating table to have anything of the sort implemented in the collective bargaining agreement. As it is, Goodell is too much of a despot to willingly hand over any control. If the despot has learned anything from this, maybe he’ll be fairer going forward. Given that during his reign he has embroiled the league in one lawsuit after another, color me skeptical.