Earlier this morning, Tom Brady released his much anticipated response to the NFL’s decision to uphold his four-game suspension. The NFL’s finding that Brady “probably” had “general awareness” of misconduct regarding the New England Patriots’ use of underinflated footballs holds, at least for the moment. In his heartfelt statement, Brady stated unequivocally that, “[he] did nothing wrong and no one in the Patriots organization did either.” This statement is the latest development in so called “Deflategate” and only further fuels the fire surrounding the biggest sports story in the country.
The NFL’s 20-page decision on Brady’s appeal was handed down over one month after the star quarterback’s appeal hearing and only one day before the Patriots’ training camp begins. The decision to uphold the suspension rehashed old evidence and cited new evidence that on or shortly before March 6th, the day Brady was interviewed by the NFL’s supposedly neutral investigative team, Brady instructed his assistant to destroy his cellphone he had been using since early November 2014. The destroyed phone was used by Brady during the period including the Patriots’ AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts, where the Colts accused the Patriots of using slightly underinflated footballs.
Goodell said that Brady was aware of, and took steps to support, the actions of team employees to deflate game footballs below the levels allowed under NFL rules. The report specifically states that, “[t]he evidence fully supports [Goodell’s] findings that (I) Mr. Brady participated in a scheme to tamper with the game balls after they had been approved by the game officials for use in the AFC Championship Game and (2) Mr. Brady willfully obstructed the investigation by, among other things, affirmatively arranging for destruction of his cellphone knowing that it contained potentially relevant information that had been requested by the investigators . . . All of this indisputably constitutes conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”
In response to the accusation, Brady stated that "[he] replaced [his] broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER [his] attorneys made it clear to the NFL that [his] actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. . .To suggest that [he] destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong."
In light of the NFL’s decision, the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) and Brady have authorized his legal team to file a lawsuit in federal court, where he hopes to get an injunction of the four-game suspension that will allow him to play in games while the matter makes it way through court. The basis of the lawsuit will center around the process used by the NFL to make its decision about Brady’s supposed guilt.
Both legal and sports analysts alike have differing opinions regarding Brady’s likelihood of success in court. Some analysts believe Brady and the union have a strong case and an excellent chance of winning. The NFLPA can argue that the finding by NFL-appointed investigator Ted Wells that Brady probably was at least generally aware of a football-deflation scheme is not legally sufficient for the discipline that was imposed. The NFLPA can also argue that the NFL’s guidelines for handling footballs apply to teams, and not to players, and that Brady was given an arbitrary punishment without a precedent. Additionally, the union can harshly attack the league’s approach to explaining the science related to the possible impact of weather conditions on football deflation.
Those who believe that Brady’s appeal will be unsuccessful is because federal courts generally do not like to get involved in privately arbitrated manners. ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson stated that, “[a]lthough [Brady] enjoys top-of-the-line legal representation and his lawyers will file a brilliantly written lawsuit, his effort to stop the suspension is doomed. There are two reasons why: First, federal judges are reluctant to reconsider the rulings of arbitrators; second, Goodell produced a decision on Brady that is brilliantly reasoned, meticulously detailed, and well-written. Goodell's recitation of the evidence of the tampering with game balls is powerful, and his description of Brady's attempt at a cover-up is persuasive.”
In an effort to beat Brady to the punch, the NFL filed a lawsuit in New York to affirm its decision to uphold the four-game suspension. The NFLPA was likely to file its suit in Massachusetts, where Brady has home field advantage, or Minnesota, where the federal court has oftentimes ruled against the NFL and in favor of the players.
At this point, only time will tell whether Brady gets to clear his name and continue his dominance both on and off the field. Regardless of the outcome one thing appears certain - an angry Tom Brady is one to be feared on the field. When he gets on the field, whether in Game 1 or Game 5, you can be sure he will be more prepared than ever and determined to continue his amazing run as quarterback of one the greatest football franchises ever to play the game.