Jonathan Vilma has officially appealed his year-long suspension, which is a formality and a widely expected move after the bountygate punishments were announced last week. The other three suspended players (Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita, and Will Smith) have until the end of the business day on Monday to make their filings.
It’s a fruitless effort since the current system still ends with appeals landing on Roger Goodell’s desk. When the judge who determined the punishment is also the arbitrator who considers the appeal, then the thought process should take about eight seconds. Here’s a rough transcript of what will happen when if Goodell reads Vilma’s appeal, and then considers it.
ROGER: Welp, Roger, it looks like we have Jonathan Vilma’s appeal here.
ROGER: Yep, sure does.
ROGER: Last week we suspended this fellow for a year. Has anything changed in less than seven days?
ROGER: Okay then. Let’s have a god damn snack.
And it’s that dialogue which is truly at the root of this appeal, while Vilma’s actual punishment and the slim potential for a reduction is secondary. In the grievances filed Friday, the NFLPA made it clear that it doesn’t approve of Goodell’s position has the unquestioned sheriff of NFL town. Vilma doesn’t want Goodell’s one-sided, schizophrenic talk to take place at all, and is arguing that Goodell shouldn’t hear his appeal. He wants the appeal delayed until the grievances are heard and a ruling has been issued.
A letter from Vilma’s lawyer to Goodell hammered that point home further, questioning the commissioner’s jurisdiction, and still wondering why there’s been a refusal to produce evidence.
“The NFL has refused to provide a single piece of evidence to us. That approach to this serious matter was reflected in the NFL’s outside counsel’s disturbing recent statement to the media that the players’ requests to review and understand the alleged evidence against them is a “red herring.’ Rather, to be able to share, discuss and analyze the supposed evidence that has been gathered is a fundamental cornerstone of a fair and just process, and a vital prerequisite to uncovering the truth. Indeed, the failure of the NFL to conduct itself in a just manner has compromised the process and resulted in erroneous and damaging conclusions.”
On the matter of jurisdiction and Goodell’s status as the only NFL jury, it’s easy to agree with Vilma. It’s always been absurd that Goodell hears the appeals on any league punishment, but there’s one crucial problem: during the lockout, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on the current appeal process after lengthy collective bargaining. Sorry, NFLPA, you signed up for this.
It’s also odd that Vilma’s lawyer is now campaigning for a fair and just process, because his client either waived, or more likely was ordered to waive his right to a key part in that process. Prior to the ruling on his suspension Vilma had an opportunity to meet with Goodell to both plead his case and possibly be presented with evidence, but he declined.
The motivation for that decision is likely what we’re seeing unfold now. Vilma and the NFLPA wanted to save their ammunition for a much larger fight in which the Saints linebacker is now the lead pawn, and the goal is to unseat Goodell from his perch as ultimate league dictator. Their success will determine how the grimiest league violations are handled in the future, making the grievances and by extension Vilma’s appeal a key battleground between two sides that have grown fond of offseason labor wars over the last two years.
The rest of us are growing weary. Very, very weary.
UPDATE: Along with the appeal, Vilma’s lawyer also handed Goodell a sweeping request for specific evidence. It includes evidence showing the existence of a bounty program, and evidence proving Vilma’s involvement.
The other three players have also filed their appeals, but made the same request as Vilma. All four want the appeal to be delayed until the jurisdictional issue is resolved.