The pro football scandal known as “Deflategate,” where New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was accused of deliberately deflating footballs to make them easier to throw, took another turn today when a federal judge vacated the NFL’s 4-game suspension of Brady.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ruled that the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, acted improperly in suspending Brady for 4 games after an investigation revealed that the star quarterback probably knew of the scheme to deflate game balls prior to the AFC Championship game in January.
By no means does this “vindicate” Brady because Berman ruled on some technical violations, not on the matter of whether Brady was innocent or guilty.
The NFL plans to appeal the ruling.
“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement released by the league. “We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game. The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.”
The league’s appeal means that Brady potentially is risking having to serve the suspension, if it is reinstated, later this season or perhaps beyond. The NFL also seems intent on doing its best to avoid having Berman’s ruling stand as a precedent for future cases of player discipline.
Legal experts had said that Brady and the NFL Players Association faced a difficult task in court because judges generally are reluctant to overturn arbitration decisions. Goodell upheld Brady’s four-game suspension on appeal. The league had imposed the penalty after its investigator, Ted Wells, found that Brady probably was aware of a scheme to use under-inflated footballs during the first half of last season’s AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The league argued in court that Goodell’s authority in the matter could not be challenged under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union. But the NFLPA contended that Goodell acted improperly, and Berman agreed.
Berman cited in particular the league’s failure to notify Brady that he faced a potential suspension, and the NFL’s failure to allow league counsel Jeff Pash to testify at Brady’s appeal hearing.
“The Court is fully aware of the deference afforded to arbitral decisions, but, nevertheless, concludes that the Award should be vacated,” Berman wrote. “The Award is premised upon several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four-game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.”
So much for the union’s devotion to the “integrity of the game.”
The deflated balls almost certainly had no impact on the outcome of that game. But it is symptomatic of a culture where team officials don’t believe they have to play by the same rules as everyone else.
And that extends to their star quarterback as well.