NFL's Brady Ruling Doesn't Mean Deflategate Is Over
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the NFL has upheld the four-game suspension given to Tom Brady by the NFL. But the great suckhole of time and energy that is Deflategate still hasn't run its course.
Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Tuesday that he is confirming the suspension handed down by executive vice present Troy Vincent for Brady's alleged role in slightly deflating the footballs used in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. Goodell says Brady tried to cover up his role, writing in his decision that the quarterback had an assistant destroy his cell phone around the time he was set to meet with independent investigator Ted Wells. Brady says he routinely destroys old cell phones when he gets a new one.
Whether or not you think Brady cheated, it's pretty clear the NFL is still overstepping its bounds here. Wells didn't have subpoena power, so Brady wasn't legally obligated to turn over his phone. It seems the league is attempting a new twist on the Watergate-inspired adage that the coverup is worse than the crime by making the coverup the crime itself. That might sound tenuous from a legal and logical standpoint -- because it is -- but the NFL is at least winning the public messaging game.
Now comes the legal battle. The NFL Players Association had vowed to take the league to court if it upheld Brady's suspension, and it seems Goodell & Co. took that threat to heart. Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg News reports that the NFL is preemptively filing a complaint against the union in a U.S. District Court in New York, asking the federal court to confirm the penalty. Goodell is effectively seeking to legally cement his authority under the collective-bargaining agreement "to discipline players for conduct that he determines is 'detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.' " That's a pretty broad stroke, and one that does in fact exist in the CBA, but it's a whole other level to ask a federal court to essentially ratify Goodell's unchecked power.
As Soshnick observes, the court complaint is likely a play to redirect the jurisdiction of the NFLPA's impending legal action to New York and away from Minnesota, where Judge David S. Doty presides. The U.S. District Court in Minnesota has a long history of ruling in favor of the union, which dates back to the mid-1970s, when it held that the Rozelle Rule -- which hampered player movement by mandating that a team losing a free agent would get equal value in return -- violated antitrust laws. Most recently, Doty overturned NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson's decision to uphold the league's indefinite suspension of Adrian Peterson, ruling that the NFL could not retroactively apply its new personal conduct policy.
So now, instead of this inane ordeal finally ending, we have to wait for things to play out in court. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the union could seek an injunction, allowing Brady to take the field and get a decision made more quickly. Or things could drag out through the upcoming season, and force us to spend more time reading sentences like this one from NBC Sports' Mike Florio, who describes the NFL's "unseemly" legal complaint as "creating a clear sense of coordination between Goodell the supposedly independent arbitrator and Goodell the chief executive at 345 Park Avenue."
There's the sheer absurdity of the NFL's disciplinary system in one quote: an expectation that Goodell the Arbitrator and Goodell the Commissioner can possibly be anything but one and the same -- Goodell the Despot.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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