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Saints player wants quick hearing over 'bounty' suspension

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 12:57pm

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is asking a federal court for a hearing this week over the football player's yearlong suspension stemming from the "bounty" investigation: allegations of financial bonuses being paid to hurt opposing players.

The time-sensitive request for a public hearing Thursday is opposed by the National Football League. Vilma's lawyers want a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of the suspension before the team's training camp starts early next week.

U.S. District Court Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan was expected to issue an order shortly on the hearing request.

In March, the league suspended four current and former Saints players -- Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith -- concluding that they had leadership roles in the pay-for-injury program. The league also suspended three coaches and the Saints' general manager this year.

Vilma, a defensive captain, helped the team's defensive coordinator establish and fund the program, the league said in a news release.

"Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty -- $10,000 in cash -- to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week," the league concluded after a monthslong internal investigation.

The NFL said its investigation found that the Saints had an "active bounty program" during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. During this time, players were purportedly offered "bounty" payments if they managed to hurt opposing players and knock them out of a game.

Vilma then sued the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying his reputation and professional career were being "irreparably harmed."

The player is rehabilitating his injured knee and argued in court papers that it was necessary that his treatment be carefully supervised by team trainers and coaches. The current suspension would not allow Vilma to have contact with team personnel or be allowed on the facilities.

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