Saints interim coach Joe Vitt drills NFL in Vilma lawsuit

Suspended New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma got strong support Tuesday from interim coach Joe Vitt.

Vitt and team trainer Scottie Patton filed affidavits in federal court in New Orleans to support Vilma's motion for an expedited hearing in the player's lawsuit against the NFL in the alleged "pay-to-injure" bounty scandal. Vilma wants his one-year suspension overturned.

"Our inability to work with Mr. Vilma, in my opinion, jeopardizes the entire Saints football team and our 2012-2013 season," Vitt's affidavit said.

Vitt also took a swipe at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Vitt said he would provide "substantive and truthful testimony and information about the allegations made by Mr. Goodell regarding the so-called but non-existent bounty program and to refute that the Saints ever had a bounty program."

Vitt's affidavit described Vilma as "proud of playing cleanly and fairly" and said, "Mr. Vilma, to be clear, is one of the finest, fairest and most decent people I have ever known, both in and out of football."

Vitt will serve a six-game suspension beginning Week 1 of the regular season for his involvement, but he can lead the team through training camp.

He was named interim coach in April after coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year. Before the NFL draft, Vitt said, "No. 1, at no time did any of our players ever cross the white line with the intention of hurting another player. Now that being said, I'm serving a six-game suspension for the spoken word, not the clinched fist."

He was asked at a news conference what he meant by that.

"We never taught any of our players that when they crossed the white line to injure another player," Vitt said. "I regret the words that were spoken at meetings. … The body of work that our players have on the field has spoken well. I don't think that you acquire the players that we have and the coaches that have come here unless you're a first-class organization. That's what we have here."

In Patton's affidavit, the trainer said Vilma was barred from entering the Saints facility for treatment in recovering from a serious knee injury. "Our inability to work with Mr. Vilma, in my opinion, compromises Mr. Vilma's medical condition and could directly and negatively impact his recovering."

The NFL opposed the motion, contending Vilma could not seek a court order to block the suspension because he had not exhausted all of his options under the league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

In an order issued later Tuesday, the court said a hearing that had been set for Aug. 1 would be rescheduled for July 26. That would follow a settlement conference July 23. The Saints will open training camp July 24. In the order, the court said, "(Vilma) can in fact receive treatment from the Saints medical staff during his suspension as long as it is at a private facility."

Bookmark and Share
blog comments powered by Disqus