UPDATE: The NFL has appealed Thursday’s ruling, but will reportedly not seek a stay of the ruling that would prevent Brady from playing while the appeal is pending.
A federal judge has overturned the four-game suspension the National Football League imposed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (pictured on the left) over the ‘deflategate’ scandal.
On Thursday, US District Judge Richard Berman overturned the suspension because it had been “premised on several significant legal deficiencies.” Berman said the NFL had failed to (a) provide Brady with sufficient notice of his potential punishment, (b) make NFL investigators available for cross-examination, and (c) allow Brady’s legal team access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.
Brady stood accused of being involved in a conspiracy to deflate footballs below NFL minimum pressure standards in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts this January. Brady allegedly preferred softer balls in wet conditions. (Insert your own puerile double-entendre here.)
The NFL’s original investigation of the brouhaha turned up no concrete evidence of Brady’s involvement in the deflation, which was ultimately pinned on two Patriots’ equipment managers. But the report concluded that Brady was “generally aware” of the ball boys’ activities and Brady’s protestations to the contrary were deemed “implausible.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (pictured right) justified the suspension in part on the convenient destruction of Brady’s phone shortly before he was due to be questioned by the league, and the subsequent loss of potentially incriminating text messages between the QB and the equipment staff.
The Patriots and the NFL Players Association challenged the suspension, saying it violated the players’ collective bargaining agreement. The NFLPA called Goodell’s suspension notice a “propaganda piece written for public consumption,” implying that Goodell was overcompensating after having initially administered what many felt was insufficient punishment to Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice after he was caught on video slugging his wife in an Atlantic City casino.
In his ruling, Berman criticized Goodell for dispensing “his own brand of industrial justice” rather than following the proscribed procedure. In the past 12 months, Goodell has lost five court challenges of penalties imposed on players, cases that cost the league millions of dollars and which have led to questions regarding Goodell’s stewardship of the league.
Berman’s ruling clears the way for Brady to appear in the Pats’ season-opener against the Steelers on Sept. 10. There’s a chance the NFL could appeal the ruling, but few expect the NFL to take this route, given the seemingly ironclad legal justification behind Berman’s decision. Meanwhile, sportsbook managers and fantasy football players have been left scrambling to adjust lines and line-ups.
Berman may have also saved Brady’s marriage. The latest issue of noted journalistic authority US Weekly claims Brady’s supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen had threatened to divorce Tom because the stress brought on by Deflategate had made Tom “very nasty and irritable and started acting out on her.” Hey, we saw Brady’s Entourage cameo… The man couldn’t act to save his life.