Brady Wins On ‘Deflategate’ Ruling

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Well, as the bible says, “Pride goeth before a fall…” And that’s what happened to the NFL on Thursday, when U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman let the air out (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist) of  the ‘Deflategate’ case by ruling for New England quarterback Tom Brady, and erasing his four-game suspension.

I must admit I was surprised. I thought the two would settle and mistakenly took the judge’s threats to the NFL about the holes in their case were just the common tactic used to force a settlement. But the judge really lowered the boom on the NFL. And not surprising, it was the nature of the suspension and the process that was at legal issue, not whether than if Brady actually was guilty of the well-known rules infraction. In its papers, the NFL said there was “ample support” in evidence for the commissioner to conclude Brady was involved in efforts by the Patriots equipment personnel to deflate footballs. The commissioner also said he concluded Brady “knew about, approved of, consented to, and provided inducements and rewards” to ensure balls were deflated.

Well, there, as they say, is the rub. Brady, of course, has insisted he played no role in a conspiracy to deflate footballs below the allowable limit at last season’s AFC championship game. As I mentioned in my early August article, once he’d done that, there was no way he could have later admitted to it, or risk a perjury charge. Knowing that, the NFL should have been willing to settle on the fact that Brady’s suspension should have been reduced and the reason changed to the fact he failed to cooperate with the investigation. That would have been the smart play for the NFL; maintain the administration of the ‘kingdom’ by still punishing Brady, because my source say he would have accepted a two game suspension, as long as that was the stated reason.

But Goodell and the NFL, in their arrogance, decided to go for the whole enchilada, and got ‘flagged’ (sorry, I just can’t help it). Judge Berman’s ruling was sweeping and strongly worded, which is no surprise to my legal experts. Because, unlike in Goodell’s world, in a real court you actually need a funny thing called evidence. Berman said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went too far in affirming punishment of the Super Bowl winning quarterback. The suspension was “premised upon several significant legal deficiencies,” Berman wrote in his opinion, noting that an arbitrator’s factual findings are generally not open to judicial challenge. Other notable comments (paraphrased) in Berman’s ruling include the following:

  • Brady had no notice that his discipline would be the equivalent of the discipline imposed upon a player who used performance enhancing drugs
  • Brady was denied equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes, and didn’t have a chance to examine one of two lead investigators, namely by refusing to deliver NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash as a witness even though he worked on the NFL investigation.
  • A general lack of evidentiary proof against Brady
  • Brady had no notice he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate football and for not cooperating with an investigation.

The written decision frees Brady to prepare for the Sept. 10 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Berman’s ruling does not necessarily end the dispute. The league can appeal. At this point, with the season about to start, I can’t imagine the NFL won’t just let this go. Or will they?

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