Jonathan Polynice Vilma (born April 16, 1982) is an American football linebacker who is currently a free agent. He playedcollege football for the University of Miami, and was selected by the New York Jets in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
He also played for the New Orleans Saints, where he won a Super Bowl.
Vilma was born in Coral Gables, Florida to Haitian immigrant parents. He attended G.W. Carver Middle School and laterCoral Gables High School where he was a teammate of Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore.
Vilma received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Miami, and played for coach Butch Davis and coach Larry Coker's Miami Hurricanes football teams from 2000 to 2003.
In 2000, Vilma played in all 11 games as a reserve middle linebacker and compiled 38 tackles (29 solo) and a pass deflection.
After the graduation of Dan Morgan, Vilma stepped into the starting middle linebacker role and played an integral role on the Hurricanes' National Championship team. He led the team in tackles with 79 (54 solo) and compiled two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery for a 36-yard touchdown, three pass deflections and an interception. He started 11 of 12 games during the regular season and was selected on the First-Team All-Big East team.
Vilma led the team in tackles with 133 (75 solo), and had two quarterback sacks, a forced fumble, recovered two fumbles, (returning one for a touchdown) and broke up five passes. He earned unanimous first-team All-Big East selection for the second time in his career and was semi-finalist for the Dick Butkus Award, along with teammate D.J. Williams.
In his final year, Vilma led the team in tackles for a third time with 127 (81 solo), with one sack, forced one fumble, and recovered three fumbles. Vilma ended the year as a finalist for the Butkus Award.
Along with his success on the field, Vilma was a three-time Academic All-Big East Conference. He received a Bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Miami's School of Business Administration.
Vilma was interviewed about his time at the University of Miami for the documentary The U, which premiered December 12, 2009 on ESPN.
Vilma was a central figure in the so-called New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, in which the NFL alleged he and several of his defensive teammates, and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams operated a pool which paid out "bounties" for deliberately trying to knock opposing players out of games. According to the league, Vilma offered $10,000 cash to anyone who knocked Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Favre took a severe beating during that game, and was even forced out for one play with an ankle injury. Although as many as 27 Saints players were alleged to be involved, Vilma was the only player who was initially singled out by the league for his role.
On May 2, 2012, the NFL suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season for his alleged role in the bounty program. The league claimed that he and defensive end Will Smithhelped Williams start the program in 2009. Vilma first found out about the suspension when it was announced on SportsCenter. He almost immediately announced that he would appeal, calling the suspension an "injustice" and adamantly denying that he was involved in any sort of bounty scheme. Vilma brought a personal slander suit against Roger Goodell. The suspension was reported to be the longest suspension related to in-game misconduct in modern NFL history, dwarfing the previous record of five games handed to Albert Haynesworth for stomping on Andre Gurode's head in 2006.
Opinions about the suspensions were divided in the player community. Most of the players who were the targets of questionable hits by the Saints, including Favre and Warner, claimed the bounties were merely part of the game. However, several former players interviewed by Sports Illustrated said that while payments for good hits and sacks were indeed considered part of the game, bounties for intentionally injuring opponents violated an unwritten code.
On July 26, Vilma and seven witnesses from the Saints testified in front of a federal judge in New Orleans that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got his facts wrong in the bounty scandal."Everybody was sworn in under oath in front of a judge with the risk of perjury and jail time if we were lying, and categorically denied there was a bounty," Vilma said in a text message to ESPN's Ed Werder. "Seven people testified, 2 sworn affidavits (one by Drew Brees) all saying the same thing. I ask that you and ESPN report the facts. No more bias or b.s. or hearsay. I gave you facts that you can report if so choose." Tulane University Sports Law Program Director Gabe Feldman (who attended the hearing in court) said, "Clearly the judge, by her questions, indicated she thinks Goodell overstepped his authority, and this case was always going to be about if he executed his power fairly... The NFL's retort is that with all due deference, you don't get to second guess (commissioner Roger Goodell). Judges only have limited jurisdiction over arbitration issues."
On September 7, Vilma's suspension was completely overturned and he was reinstated for the 2012 season. The Associated Press then reported Roger Goodell's disappointment in the determination of the arbitration board's ruling. Vilma met with Roger Goodell on September 17 to discuss allegations.
On October 9, 2012, four weeks and three days after an internal appeals panel vacated suspensions imposed on Vilma, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Saints defensive end Will Smith, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove, the league again suspended the four Saints players. Vilma's suspension remained as the entire 2012 season, although he was allowed to keep his paychecks for the first six weeks of the season when he was on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The suspensions were then reviewed by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and on December 11, 2012, overruled Roger Goodell's punishments and vacated the suspensions of all the players involved in the alleged bounty scandal. Vilma said he would continue to pursue his defamation lawsuit against commissioner Goodell. That case was ultimately dismissed in January 2013; the court was critical of how the NFL handled the matter but found that the claims were preempted.
Vilma ultimately played in 11 games during the 2012 season.
Vilma underwent knee surgery during the preseason and was placed on the Reserve/Injured Designated for Return list, with the hope that he would recover in time to play during the season. He was reactivated for the Saints' eighth game, a 26-20 loss to his former team, the New York Jets, and was in the game for only 12 defensive snaps. The following week he was again placed on injured reserve, ending his 2013 season.