Judge Berrigan had been holding off ruling on the case while awaiting for Vilma to go through the process of appealing his season-long suspension by the NFL. "Even though this matter has been pending only since May of this year, it feels as protracted and painful as the Saints' season itself and calls for closure," Berrigan said, according to WWL Television in New Orleans. Vilma appealed the suspension issued by Goodell, and the commissioner upheld it. But Goodell recused himself from a second appeal. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in as the appeals officer. Although Tagliabue said he didn't disagree with Goodell's finding of the facts related to Vilma, he vacated the suspension.
As we wrote in a column on August 9 titled “Vilma’s suit a loser,” a player’s gripe against the commissioner belongs under the umbrella of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and not in federal court. The issue is commissioner’s authority, which has been a part of every CBA for the past half-century. I said at the time that Judge Berrigan should rule that the matter belongs within the realm of a union-management agreement reached after “arm’s length bargaining,” which is legal term meaning the devil did not make the union sign it. Even if Berrigan had allowed the suit to go forward, Vilma’s claim that Goodell defamed his good name should come under a federal precedent that is taught to every first-year journalism student in America. The probability that a plaintiff will recover damages in a defamation suit depends largely on whether the plaintiff is a public or private figure in the eyes of the law. The law regarding the defamation or libel of a public figure was established in the 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan. The plaintiff was a police official who claimed that false allegations about him appeared in the New York Times and sued the newspaper for libel. The Supreme Court held that a public official alleging libel must prove actual malice in order to recover damages. The Court declared that the First Amendment protects open and robust debate on public issues even when such debate includes "vehement, caustic, unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."
A public figure who has voluntarily assumed a position in the public eye must prove that defamatory statements were made with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether they were false. Anybody want to debate whether Vilma is a public figure or not?]
Thankfully, Judge Berrigan saw the wisdom of tossing Vilma’s rant out of federal court. Now, if only Goodell would announce that Sean Payton could go back to work before the Super Bowl, we could all start to heal from what was a terrible, terrible 2012 for Who Dat Nation.
My new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores, at Amazon.com and at my website: www.JWMillerSports.com