Sep/14/12 08:40 AM Filed in: Jonathan Vilma
The attorney for New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told USA TODAY Sports Thursday that he considers Commissioner Roger Goodell's season-long suspension of Vilma "voided'' by a three-member panel's ruling and he hopes to have Vilma exonerated and his NFL career restored in a Monday meeting with Goodell in New York.
"The accusations against Jonathan are not only erroneous but very, very difficult for Jonathan emotionally and personally,'' Peter Ginsberg said. "Our hope is that the commissioner, as he restarts the process, will take a fresh look at the evidence, listen to what Jonathan has to say and allow Jonathan to get back to living his life and playing the game he loves.''
Goodell made it clear with suspensions of Vilma and three other players -- Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), Cleveland Browns and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) and former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (eight games) -- that he was convinced the Saints ran an illegal bounty program from 2009-2011. Goodell believes the alleged pay-to-injure scheme endangered the safety of opponents as well as the integrity of the game.
The four suspensions were seemingly vacated by the three-member appeals panel last Friday, although there remains dispute over what that panel ruled.
Ginsberg disputes a Thursday statement by the league that the player suspensions were not overturned, but "put on hold'' until Goodell met individually with the players. Goodell was asked by the panel to rule on conduct detrimental to the game violations, rather than possible salary-cap infractions in connection with players being paid to injure opponents.
Ginsberg says the panel's inference was that Goodell overstepped his bounds.
"Right now there is no suspension,'' Ginsberg said. "The suspension was voided. I don't think there's any real dispute with what the appeals panel did. The opinion is short and clear.''
Not so, said Greg Aiello, spokesman for the league.
He said, in the statement, "it is important to understand what the panel did and did not rule. The panel did not overturn the suspensions and did not say Commissioner Goodell overstepped his authority.
"The panel's decision asks no more than that the commissioner clarify his earlier rulings to ensure -- and to clearly state -- that no part of the prior ruling was attributable to" salary-cap violations. It does not require the commissioner to take additional evidence or to 'reweigh' the evidence currently in the record.
"The panel did not take issue with any findings that were made in the course of the investigation, did not exonerate anyone involved, and did not say that the commissioner 'overstepped his authority.'"
He added: "The panel put the suspensions on hold.''
Vilma and Ginsberg walked out of a June 18 appeals hearing Ginsberg characterized as "a sham.''