Tom Brady’s appeal of a four-game suspension for his involvement in the New England Patriots’ deflated-ball controversy will be heard by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.
All-Pro quarterback Brady filed his challenge through the NFL Players Association Thursday, four days after the league said the two-time Most Valuable Player probably was “at least generally aware” that two Patriots staffers deflated game balls to below the minimum air pressure before last season’s conference championship game.
The NFL responded hours later by saying Goodell would preside over the hearing “in accordance with the process agreed upon with the NFL Players Association in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement,” Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, said in an e-mail.
Goodell’s decision won’t be welcomed by the players’ union, which called for an independent adjudicator, or by Brady and his agent Don Yee, who said May 10 that the suspension was “ridiculous” and had “no legitimate basis.”
“If the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells Report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic,” Yee said on Monday, referring to the 243-page report detailing the conclusions of lead investigator Ted Wells.
Goodell rejected an option to allow Brady’s arguments to be heard by another person designated by him following consultations with NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.
“Given the NFL’s history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal,” the union said in announcing Brady’s appeal. “They should be confident enough to present their case before someone who is truly independent.”
The NFL, which had commissioned a three-month investigation into the case, said Brady was disciplined for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the league.
The Patriots, who were fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks, said after the penalties that Brady has the team’s unconditional support.
The Wells Report said it was “more probable than not” that Jim McNally, an officials’ locker room attendant for New England, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, released air from game balls after they’d been examined by officials prior to a 45-7 rout over the Indianapolis Colts that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl. The report said it was unlikely the two staffers “would personally and unilaterally engage in such conduct in the absence of Brady’s awareness and consent.”
The Patriots’ lead attorney in the controversy on Thursday challenged the Wells Report, saying its conclusions were “incomplete, incorrect and lacked context.” Daniel Goldberg, a senior partner in the Boston office of Morgan Lewis, said there’s no evidentiary support that Brady “was aware of any actual or even attempted effort to improperly release air from footballs.”
If Brady is unsuccessful with his appeal, he’d miss the opening game of the regular season, a Thursday night meeting with the Steelers on Sept. 10 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The 10-time Pro Bowl selection could also sit out games against the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys.
Super Bowl MVP
Brady, who is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen and is one of the most high-profile players in the most popular U.S. sport, was voted the Super Bowl MVP for a third time in February after throwing four touchdown passes in a 28-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks.
In a letter sent to Brady detailing the suspension, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said all players, “no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected,” have an obligation to comply with league rules. If those rules are violated and “the public’s confidence in the game is called into question,” Vincent added, the player must be held accountable.
If Brady serves the full four-game ban, he’d be eligible to return on Oct. 18 against at Indianapolis. It was the Colts who informed NFL officials that Brady and the Patriots were using under-inflated footballs in the conference title game.