Deflategate is over. The National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell won. The New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady lost.
Fifteen months after the NFL accused the Patriots of tampering with footballs in the 2015 AFC Championship, and three days before the Thursday start of the 2016 NFL Draft, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that favored Brady. In doing so, by a 2-1 vote, the court acknowledged that Goodell can govern the NFL with an iron fist, thanks to language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to which the players and the owners last agreed in 2011.
The result? Brady is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2016 season, at the Arizona Cardinals and at home against the Miami Dolphins, the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills. Goodell had issued that punishment last May in the wake of the damning Wells Report, which concluded that it was “more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities” of two low-level ball handlers.
In addition, Goodell at that time fined the Patriots $1 million and took away their first-round pick this year and their fourth-round pick in 2017. Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner, blasted the punishment, but eventually paid the fine and grudgingly accepted the loss of the draft picks.
Brady appealed his suspension in federal court in New York City, and last September U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman agreed that Goodell had exceeded his authority. Brady played the 2015 season and led the Patriots to the AFC Championship game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Denver won.
The NFL appealed Berman’s decision, and last March both sides argued before a three-judge panel in New York. Two, Barrington Daniels Parker and Denny Chin, agreed with the NFL that Goodell has broad powers under provisions of the CBA. The Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, dissented, holding that Goodell compromised his position as arbitrator when he changed his reason for punishing Brady. First it was his alleged role in deflating footballs. Then it was his not making his personal cell phone records available for the Wells investigation.
Brady’s legal team could request a hearing before the entire Second Circuit court or even take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. They had better hone their arguments if they intend to pursue either course. They have about 10 days left to decide.
Keep this in mind as you follow the draft the next few days. All this legal blocking and tackling proved nothing about Brady’s involvement in any deflation scheme, if a scheme ever existed. Nothing. Any evidence against the two employees was circumstantial. Numerous scientists and academics conducted independent tests and found that tampering was not necessary to deflate the footballs on that game day.
Finally, remember that the NFL spent millions -- $12.5 million according to estimates in March by ESPN’s Darren Rovell -- to prove this point: Commissioner Roger Goodell is The Boss, and you had better not forget it.