Jonathan Vilma Suspension and the U’s Bad Boy Reputation
The NFL, and specifically Roger Goodell, have stayed the course on player discipline as more suspensions were announced Wednesday in connection with the New Orleans Saint’s bounty scandal.
The most severe penalty will fall on the shoulders of Jonathan Vilma who will miss the entire 2012 NFL season due mainly to his large contributions to the team’s bounty pool. According to the NFL, Vilma, along with teammates Scott Fujita (3 games), Will Smith (4 games), and Anthony Hargrove (8 games), have been identified as the leaders and largest contributors to the “bounty program, which paid players over the past three seaons for hits that injured opponents.” Vilma appears to match this description more than the others as it has been reported that he offered two $10,000 bounties to knock Arizona QB Kurt Warner, and then Vikings QB Brett Farve, out of games during the 2009 playoffs. Farve was indeed injured during the game played against the Saints, suffering some trauma to his ankle and causing visible discomfort for the remainder of the game….one which the Vikings lost in overtime clearing the way for the Saints to win the Super Bowl.
Until reports of the Saints largely player-funded bounty program surfaced the most popular bounty scandal in football history was quite possibly one that Vilma should be very aware of, as it occurred in his hometown and involved the university he attended for 4 years, the University of Miami.
During the late 1980′s, when the Hurricanes were winning championships, and were arguably at the height of their popularity, stories surfaced of players taking money from a man named Luther Campbell in exchange for touchdowns and specifically hard hits on opposing players. Campbell, also known as “Uncle Luke,” was a rapper in the band 2 Live Crew which hailed from south Florida. The scandal helped contribute to the bad boy image that the Hurricanes acquired during that time period….an era that is solely responsible for elevating the small private university to the national level in college football. This popularity led to a 14 year span between 1994 and 2008 during which the University of Miami had at least one player drafted in the first round of every NFL draft. Jonathan Vilma was one of those players, and how his involvement affects UM football is impossible to measure, but surely the current Hurricanes regime can look toward this incident and turn it into a lesson for future players.
Vilma also shares a connection with a much more recent Hurricanes scandal involving ponzi scheme booster Nevin Shapiro. According to Shapiro he specifically offered Vilma $5000 if he could take FSU QB Chris Rix out of a game between to the two rivals. Rix recalls “I do remember a few late hits — some of them were called, some of them weren’t. I remember one specifically in the 2003 BCS Orange Bowl game, after I had thrown a pass (Vilma) came in and led with his hand. He got it inside my facemask and gave me a black eye. I don’t remember that being called as a late hit.”
In March of this year another report was released containing quotes from a documentary that had been filmed about former Saints defensive back Steve Gleason. Some of those quotes, made by former Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams who has been indefinitely suspended by the NFL for his involvement in the scandal, made specific reference to the harming of Frank Gore ,another former Hurricane and teammate of Vilma’s at The U. These statements, made during a team meeting before the Saints were to play the 49ers in the playoffs, were graphic and specific making multiple references to “killing the head,” and with Williams at one point rubbing his fingers together signaling the fact that he would pay the first bounty on any hit to San Francisco QB Alex Smith’s chin. Ironically Vilma and Gore have been at odds with each other since they were teammates at Glades High School where coaches reported their rivalry being so intense that they were often separated during drills so that they wouldn’t injure each other. However, no evidence has been presented that suggests Vilma had any intentions on specifically injuring Gore in connection with the current scandal.
Certainly this isn’t the first time players have been involved in this type of activity, but it is the first time that real evidence has surfaced pertaining to such a large operation, and you can bet that Roger Goodell was looking to send a message with the punishments he handed down today. Goodell has quickly gained a reputation for harsh punishment especially when the subject concerns player safety, and rightfully so as these are the same players who are fighting for retiree benefits under claims that the game is causing them excessive injury and increased wear and tear after they retire. You can also bet that this incident puts a big bargaining chip in the hands of the owners for the next CBA meeting as players who are intentionally trying to injure each other probably won’t be excited to defend themselves on this particular subject.
Sometimes, in situations like this there is a fall guy, a player or coach who takes the brunt of the punishment because they got caught, or because they were the first to break a rule after the rule’s implementation. This is not one of those cases. Jonathan Vilma specifically went to a university then known for their bad boy reputation, was directly involved in a bounty scandal while at that school, and has now carried that attitude into the NFL. There may not be anyone in the league more deserving of this harsh punishment than Jonathan Vilma.
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