Suspended Vilma hits Goodell with defamation suit

Suspended New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, claiming Goodell made false statements that tarnished his reputation and hindered his ability to make a living playing football.

The suit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans claims Goodell “relied on, at best, hearsay, circumstantial evidence and lies” in making comments about Vilma while discussing the NFL’s bounty investigation of the Saints. Goodell has said Vilma was a leader of the team’s bounty program that put up thousands of dollars for hits that took out opposing teams’ star players from 2009 to 2011.

Goodell has suspended Vilma, an eight-year veteran and defensive captain, for the entire 2012 season. Vilma and three other current or former Saints who received shorter suspensions – defensive end Will Smith, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita – have appealed their punishments. Hargrove now plays for the Green Bay Packers and Fujita for the Cleveland Browns.

Also: The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to terms with running back LeSean McCoy on a five-year contract extension worth a reported $45 million, with $20.765 million guaranteed. He set franchise records in 2011 with 17 touchdowns rushing and 20 total scores.

The Buffalo Bills signed their first-round draft pick, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, to a four-year contract worth about $12 million. Gilmore played three years at South Carolina, where he started all 40 games and was a two-time All-Southeastern Conference selection.

The New York Jets signed first-round draft pick Quinton Coples to a four-year contract. The defensive end had 24 sacks in his career at North Carolina, including 17½ in his final two years.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed place-kicker Connor Barth to a four-year, $13.2 million contract. He is 63 of 75 on field-goal attempts and 71 of 71 on extra points since joining the Bucs in 2009.

Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain was sentenced to 180 days in jail by a judge for assault and other charges stemming from a fight in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., when he allegedly threatened to kill a man and fired a gun next to his head. McClain’s attorney said he will appeal and seek a jury trial.

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from an incident in which police used pepper spray to subdue him after an off-campus party May 3 in South Bend, Ind. Rees, who started 12 of 13 games last season, is charged with one count of battery, two counts of resisting law enforcement and one count of illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor.

An Alabama fan was charged in New Orleans with sexual battery after authorities say he was captured on video performing a simulated sex act on an unconscious Louisiana State fan after the Bowl Championship Series title game Jan. 9. Brian H. Downing, 32, was indicted on one count each of sexual battery of a male victim and obscenity. The video went viral on the Internet.


Palmer fires 64, leads by one shot in Byron Nelson

Ryan Palmer shot a 6-under-par 64 to take a one-stroke lead over Marc Leishman and Alex Cejka after the first round of the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas.

Palmer, who lives in Colleyville, not far from the TPC Four Seasons, finished second last year in the Nelson. He birdied the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Keegan Bradley, but hit his approach into the greenside water to hand Bradley his first tour title.

Palmer’s bogey-free start Thursday came on a relatively calm day in which 85 players were at par or better. Matt Kuchar, coming off a win at The Players Championship, overcame an opening bogey and was in a group of seven at 66. Bradley was among 13 players at 67.

Also: Three days after his flight to Spain needed an emergency landing because a passenger suffered a heart attack, American Brandt Snedeker used borrowed irons and a putter from the pro shop to win his opener – 5 and 4 over Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn – at the World Match Play Championship in Casares, Spain. Because his luggage got lost, Snedeker also used a driver lent to him by Australian John Senden and started with just 10 clubs instead of the maximum 14 in a replacement bag.

Defending champion Suzann Pettersen of Norway was eliminated 3 and 1 by England’s Jodi Ewart, ranked No. 202 in the world and 62nd in the event, in the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Sybase Match Play Championship at Gladstone, N.J. Henderson resident Natalie Gulbis rallied from 4-down with eight holes left to stun Mika Miyazato, 1 up.


Top-ranked Djokovic rallies for win in Italian Open

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic overcame a poor first set and a smashed racket to beat Juan Monaco 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 and reach the Italian Open quarterfinals in Rome.

Also advancing were five-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena and Venus Williams and French Open champ Li Na. Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka withdrew with a right shoulder injury.

Also: The Edmonton Oilers fired coach Tom Renney. The Oilers were 32-40-10 this season, the second-worst record in the NHL, after going a league-worst 25-45-12 in 2010-11 in Renney’s first season.

Forward Jesse Joensuu scored with nine seconds left to give Finland a 3-2 victory over the United States and a spot in the semifinals of the hockey world championships in Helsinki. Kyle Palmieri and Bobby Ryan scored for the U.S.

Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 team won the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge in Charlotte, N.C., avenging last year’s loss in the finals to Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 team. Hamlin’s team was the two-time defending champion and cruised into the finals, but lost to Johnson’s team by three-tenths of a second.

Old Dominion announced it is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for Conference USA, which will elevate the football program to the Bowl Subdivision level. Old Dominion has a 27-8 record in football the past three years and made the FBS playoffs last year.

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