Jonathan Vilma and his New Orleans Saints teammates aren't as original as they'd like to believe. According to Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith, the NFL didn't just turn a blind eye to Reggie White's "Smash for Cash" program in 1996, but even offered guidelines to sustain it.
The program was similar to the one utilized by the Saints: White would pay $500 to any Green Bay Packer that laid down a big hit.
At some point, the matter was brought to the attention of the NFL's top brass. Instead of taking issue with the pay-for-pain arrangement, the league stated that the program could continue so "long as players use their own money, amounts are not exorbitant and payments aren't for illegal hits."
The NFLPA revealed the information in its latest filing against the NFL in the Bountygate case. Its position is that the league's approach in the mid-'90s is completely at odds with all of Roger Goodell's statements and actions of the past few months.
While people are free to change their minds and stances, corporations governed by a constitution and bylaws cannot do so without giving notice to their partners. As the NFLPA points out, none of the appropriate documents have been altered, meaning the NFL likely does not have the legal foundation to outlaw such behavior.
The NFL is firmly up against it now. The public opinion battle can be won with persuasive writing and strong statements. The legal battle requires hard and fast evidence.
Goodell should be in damage-control mode at this point. His case has been dissolving on all fronts (e.g. players denying statements), and the proof is piling up against the league.
A jury can overlook facts for a favorable litigant, and a judge can overlook an unlikable defendant if the facts add up. However, neither situation applies in this case, as Goodell has devastated his credibility.
In one recovering attorney's opinion, the NFL needs to admit to its mistake, settle the case and take the ensuing bruising from the media. Otherwise, continuing on such a disastrous path will only prolong the misery.