By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
I don’t know Jonathan Vilma from Adam’s housecat and Eve’s puppy, and once in a while I’ll be writing a column appropriately titled “Girly Girl Sports”, because I believe there are a lot of females out there like me who simply close their eyes when the guys are slaughtering each other, because I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Also as a novelist I had a football player as a character but he was mostly explored through his back story, and this is why I love watching the story behind the athlete when ESPN and NFL networks do profile pieces. I can watch these all day long.
I’ve read and watched enough on the court case and the NFL Bounty-gate to know that young Mr. Vilma has my respect. Why? Because he is fighting back.
Why again? Because the NFL case against him very much reminds me of a case I covered some years ago (in my profession as a journalist and not as a novelist) called “Tennessee Waltz” in which a whole slew of African American Democrat politicians—one of them being from the prominent Ford family of Tennessee—were carted off to serve prison terms for allegedly taking bribes during an FBI sting operation; thus, the name “Tennessee Waltz”. Yes, as I recall there was one or two white Democrat politicians who were thrown in the mix to make it look, in my educated opinion, like the Waltz was not aimed solely at Black Democrats. Again, in my educated opinion, these were ‘expendable whites’ who were used primarily in today’s racial-sphere to let those who don’t want to be accused of blatant discrimination to get away with subtle discrimination.
Most of these politicians I knew personally and professionally from having covered them for so many years and some before they became politicos. I knew they were no “Saints” ( no pun intended), but I also knew they were no demons either, and I knew also, again in my educated opinion and investigation, that a big portion of the set-up came from Jackson, Mississippi, and for the record I’ll make this professional assertion until the day I die.
The problem I had with this case as I do with the Vilma case was not so much whether the accused were guilty or not, but how the ‘justice’ was carried out on the accused who could not get answers. Answers on why they were being accused, and who in the case of the Waltz made the accusations about them that resulted in a full-scale sting being set up to bait them. This was equivalent to someone running down to the police station, accusing you of a crime and the next thing you know while you’re sitting on your couch watching television, the S.W.A.T. team is outside and in minutes you’re being hauled off to jail, eventually being tried in a trial where the attorneys are not even asking the right questions, then you’re carted off to prison never seeing the initial evidence against you that served as a catalyst to set up the arrest, never knowing who accused you—never knowing why all this is happening. You may be guilty; you may not be guilty, but it doesn’t matter because someone has decided that you are guilty and that you will serve as the Poster Child for Black Democrats behaving badly. All of which has the absurdity of Kafka’s “Trial”.
Thus, to my problem with Bounty-Gate: After the Commissioner investigated the crime of the Saints allegedly having a bounty pool within their organization, he and his boys proceeded to haul in a slew of football players along with two coaches and accuse them of either participating in or aiding and abetting in a bounty to intentionally maim players of opposing teams. Now, morally, I believe as I do believe most decent fans or non-fans do that it is wrong to intentionally maim a player which could take away his livelihood and maybe even his life!
Long story short: All the accused players got suspensions, but it was Jonathan Vilma who got a full-year suspension—the longest of any player. Why? Vilma apparently demanded to see the evidence the Commissioner had on him—or for the Commissioner to at least prove that he did what the NFL was accusing him of. If Vilma demanded such in public, it is more than likely that he initially demanded it in private. At this point Vilma is a rebel with a cause.
Now let me back up before I get one of those cute little red hankies thrown at me for fouling (or whatever you call it or ‘backfield in motion’ stuff – whatever that means), I am not playing the Race Card—not right now, but I will play it at some point if you decide to read on. To reiterate, Vilma has proven that he is a fighter (figuratively, speaking) when it comes to standing up for his rights.
To fire or suspend an employee at the will of a person in charge was the catalyst to why unions were formed. At the turn of the 20th Century, employees were treated like chattel (pretty much like football players until they unionized). If the man-in-charge didn’t like you or didn’t like how you behaved toward him, he could fire you on a whim. Pretty much like the Commissioner is acting in Vilma’s case. Vilma probably cut-up behind closed doors just as he is cutting-up in open doors by taking the Commissioner to federal court. How dare him! And it seems to me that since Vilma didn’t take his punishment quietly the Commissioner saw fit to make him the Poster Boy for football players behaving badly; thus, J.V. received the harshest sentencing outside of the assistant coach (who more or less took the punishment for being a ringleader of Bounty-Gate) and the Saints head coach—the latter being two white guys. But I’m going to leave out the assistant coach; he pretty much got what he deserved.
Now remember the Commissioner himself is no “Saint” (pun intended) and as any human being he could be quite capable of retaliation if not discrimination. And to cover his flanks, who’s to say that he did not want the ‘discrimination’ label on him seeing that these were African American players being suspended? So he threw in the Saints head coach as the ‘expendable white’ to make sure that everyone knew that he was The Commissioner and that he was one not to be questioned even if it is about ‘show me the evidence if you are accusing me of something I said I didn’t do’. Never mind showing proof against Vilma, because the Commissioner was bent on showing the Football Kingdom that he has formidable dictatorial powers that could even transcend the federal judicial system, and that he could ruin Vilma’s livelihood and make the Saints head coach the ‘expendable white’ guy to get his way. Sean Payton was big enough and white enough to give everyone the allusion that he, the Commissioner, was dealing out justice fairly and equally. And that’s my reverse-Race Card when an ‘expendable white’ is used to hide the real target of retaliation, Vilma.
News Flash! As I had just finished this piece, AP reported that the Commissioner had just presented ‘evidence’ in Vilma’s case and it was done on August 16th. The AP article stated: “The evidence includes a copy of a letter the NFL Players Association sent to the league March 7 asking Goodell to delay punishment of players implicated in the bounty probe.” First of all this doesn’t sound like much ‘evidence’ and if the ‘evidence’ is truly there why wasn’t Vilma allowed to see it way back when the cows were coming home? From what little I can see in this AP article, one can understand why Commissioner Goodell did not happily come forth with it for Vilma to see or for the judicial system to see.
Throughout all this unfortunate ‘mess’ it has been Commissioner Roger Goodell who has been behaving like a powerful spoiled brat in charge. And that makes him no Saint!