Brady’s four-game suspension upheld by Goodell
Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his role in "Deflategate" was upheld by National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday. After weeks of conjecture that the league and the NFL Players Association were working on a settlement fo...
Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate” was upheld by National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday.
After weeks of conjecture that the league and the NFL Players Association were working on a settlement following the June 23 appeal hearing, Goodell issued a strong statement Tuesday in upholding the suspension for Brady’s role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC championship Game last season.
The NFL filed suit Tuesday in Manhattan to confirm Brady’s suspension. The prompt action is considered an attempt to keep the case out of the hands of a federal arbiter.
The league’s statement Tuesday referenced “new information” disclosed by Brady and his representatives that includes Brady directing that his cell phone used for the four months leading up to his meeting with independent investigator Ted Wells’ team on March 6 be destroyed.
“He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone,” the league said in a statement. “During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.
“Based on the Wells Report and the evidence presented at the hearing, Commissioner Goodell concluded in his decision that Brady was aware of, and took steps to support, the actions of other team employees to deflate game footballs below the levels called for by the NFL’s Official Playing Rules. The commissioner found that Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs.”
In Goodell’s appeal ruling, he drew a comparison to Brady’s case and steroid use in deciding to uphold the four-game suspension.
“In terms of the appropriate level of discipline, the closest parallel of which I am aware is the collectively bargained discipline imposed for a first violation of the policy governing performance enhancing drugs; steroid use reflects an improper effort to secure a competitive advantage in, and threatens the integrity of, the game,” Goodell said. “Since the advent of our testing for steroid use in the 1980’s and now, pursuant to our Collective Bargaining Agreement, the first positive test for the use of performance enhancing drugs has resulted in a four-game suspension without the need for any finding of actual competitive effect. ...
“The four-game suspension imposed on Mr. Brady is fully consistent with, if not more lenient than, the discipline ordinarily imposed for the most comparable effort by a player to secure an improper competitive advantage and (by using a masking agent) to cover up the underlying violation.”
Brady’s agent, Don Yee, criticized the NFL in a statement.
“The Commissioner’s decision is deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness,” Yee said. “Most importantly, neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong. And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred.
“The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision. For example, the Wells investigative team was given over 100 days to conduct its investigation. Just days prior to the appeal hearing, we were notified that we would only have four hours to present a defense; therefore, we didn’t have enough time to examine important witnesses. Likewise, it was represented to the public that the Wells team was ‘independent’; however, when we requested documents from Wells, our request was rejected on the basis of privilege. We therefore had no idea as to what Wells found from other witnesses, nor did we know what those other witnesses said.
“These are just two examples of how the Commissioner failed to ensure a fair process. Additionally, the science in the Wells Report was junk. It has been thoroughly discredited by independent third parties. Finally, as to the issue of cooperation, we presented the Commissioner with an unprecedented amount of electronic data, all of which is incontrovertible.
“I do not think that any private citizen would have agreed to provide anyone with the amount of information that Tom was willing to reveal to the Commissioner. Tom was completely transparent. All of the electronic information was ignored; we don’t know why. The extent to which Tom opened up his private life to the Commissioner will become clear in the coming days.
“The Commissioner’s decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history. His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis, and it diminishes the integrity of the game.”
The NFLPA said in a statement that it “will appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.”
“The Commsssioner’s ruling today did nothing to address the legal deficiencies of due process,” the NFLPA statement said. “The fact that the NFL would resort to basing a suspension on a smoke screen of irrelevant text messages instead of admitting that they have all of the phone records they asked for is a new low, even for them, but it does nothing to correct their errors.”
The Patriots’ veterans report to training camp on Wednesday, with the first practice Thursday. ESPN reported that Brady is first scheduled media availability is Friday.
With Tuesday’s ruling by Goodell, Brady is currently slated to miss the Patriots’ first four regular-season games: the Sept. 10 home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sept. 20 at the Buffalo Bills, Sept. 27 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a bye Week 4, the Patriots return to action Oct. 11 at the Dallas Cowboys.
Brady would be eligible to return in Week 6 at the Indianapolis Colts in a Sunday night game against the team that helped pave the wave for the “Deflategate” investigation after it was determined the Patriots used underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game last season.
The four-game absence will cost Brady about $2 million in salary. The four-game suspension is the longest for an active starting quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the same number of games in violation of the league’s personal conduct policy in 2010.
Second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start in place of Brady.
“We are extremely disappointed in today’s ruling by Commissioner Goodell,” the Patriots said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. “We cannot comprehend the league’s position in this matter. Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing.
“We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal. Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives.”
Before the NFL suit Tuesday evening, speculation centered on Brady and the NFLPA taking the league court if any part of the suspension was upheld. The case could be decided by a judge rather than a jury, with Brady and the NFLPA likely contending the NFL is in violation of federal labor and arbitration laws. However, Brady would likely be required to testify under oath about the facts of the case in federal court and in any defamation claims.
The NFL announced in January that Wells would lead an investigation into the Patriots’ use of underinflated balls in the AFC Championship Game. Wells’ report, issued more than three months later, determined that Brady “more probable than not” was “at least generally aware” that the footballs used against the Colts had been tampered with. As a result of the report, the league suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season, fined the Patriots and stripped the franchise of two draft picks, including a first-round selection.
The NFLPA requested that Goodell recuse himself from the appeals process, but Goodell maintained that it is his responsibility to oversee the hearing in the interest of protecting the integrity of the league, as is his right per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.