There’s a man goin’ ‘round takin’ names. And he decides who to free, and who to blame…There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down, when the man comes around.
– Johnny Cash (presumably in reference to Deflategate’s punishment process)
In a somewhat surprising decision, federal judge Richard M. Berman (who works for the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York) has ruled in favor of Tom Brady, and has vacated the Patriots quarterback’s four-game suspension.
Berman ultimately came to this decision by deciding NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell over-extended his power, and that Brady was not granted due process. Additionally it is important to note that the reason for Brady was being disciplined was due to his “general awareness” of the deflation of footballs. Berman decided that this accusation was not enough to constitute a fair suspension under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.
It is important to remember that this decision DOES NOT mean that some member of the Patriots organization did not deflate footballs. That happened. This does mean however, that: a) Brady will be able to play in the season opener on September 10th against the Pittsburg Steelers, and b) that the arbitration and punishment process that is currently in the hands of Goodell is not gospel.
Berman, a judge known for favoring settlements in suits, pushed for a reduction of suspension or a settlement before coming out with today’s decision. Brady refused to admit any form of guilt, and the NFL rejected the idea of lessening the suspension without reason. The end result was a major win for Mr. Brady.
This particular incident has become such a major legal story not only due to the fame and importance that Tom Brady has as a player, but also because it shed light on the ridiculousness of the NFL’s disciplinary process.
Brady was originally sentenced to a four-game suspension for his “general awareness” after findings from (allegedly [and not believed to be]) independent lawyer Ted Wells were presented to the NFL in a report. Brady and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) appealed the suspension to the NFL, and Goodell assigned himself to be the arbitrator in the case.
This caused a major stir-up in the NFL legal community because Goodell was the one who assessed the case and came up with the four-game suspension in the first place. As commissioner, he had the power to name an arbitrator in a case of this matter, but the NFLPA and Brady were not happy with his appointment of himself. Unsurprisingly, the suspension was not overturned.
After the failed appeal to the NFL, Brady brought the case to federal court. Berman was the judge on the case, and ultimately ruled in favor of Brady today (September 3rd), exactly one week before the Patriots season opener. The NFL has announced plans to appeal Berman’s appeal–but this process would not be able to be completed for months. So Brady can unquestionably, legally step onto an NFL field this regular season.
Despite my passionate hatred for the New England Patriots, I think that the decision announced by Berman was a fairer decision to Brady than the punishment that Goodell attempted to impose. The Patriots are still currently docked a first round draft pick in 2016, which is punishment for continued cheating by the organization.
Brady himself may or may not have been a key contributor in this incident, but the uncertainty surrounding the situation makes a four-game suspension too ridiculous in my eyes. Ideally, I think a one game suspension should have been a fair settlement the NFL pushed for. I am happy to see that Brady will not be forced out simply due to Goodell’s inconsistent, authoritative commissioning style.
I do think that Brady told some of the equipment staff to deflate the balls. I do think that he rewarded them for cooperating in some way. However, I do not think that this was as big of a deal as it appears to be in the news. Former quarterbacks have admitted to tampering with balls in some way before, and it is not something very unusual or impactful.
Brady will be free to play this season, which hurts the Jets fan inside of me, but it is fairer for him to sit out no games, than it would be for him to sit out four games. For now, I wish Mr. Brady the worst of luck in regards to this upcoming season, and hope that the NFL’s discipline system gets a major facelift.