For most NFL players, the Super Bowl would be the peak competitive moment of their careers, but as we’ve learned over the last 14 seasons, Tom Brady is not your typical NFL player. In February, Brady was playing in the Super Bowl for the sixth time – more appearances than most franchises – but now he’s facing a battle unlike any he’s seen before:
Going up against Roger Goodell on his turf.
Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension will be heard by Goodell at the NFL’s Park Avenue offices on Tuesday, hopefully signaling the end of the “Deflategate” saga forever (but probably not). Speculation of what will become of this appeal has ranged from total vindication for Brady to reducing the suspension to one or two games to the very real possibility this will drag on into 2016, but ultimately it will come down to whether or not Brady is ready to provide new evidence to clear his name – rather than just attempt to discredit the evidence that got him on Goodell’s naughty list in the first place.
Namely, the Wells Report, which concluded that Brady was “generally aware” of an attempt to deflate balls for a competitive advantage against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. Scientific evidence that contradicts those findings will pale in comparison to Brady speaking for himself at the hearing and answering questions about certain actions he took after the game and during the investigation. Those are more damning than any PSI measurements.
Because Goodell has made it very clear that above all else, he wants to hear from Tom.
Brady’s suspension was determined by NFL executive vice president of operations Troy Vincent because of Ted Wells’ findings, but also because of what Wells was unable to find due to Brady’s “failure to cooperate fully and candidly.”
So while Jeffrey Kessler, Brady’s main representative in the hearings, can refute the findings all he wants with contradictory scientific evidence, it will be much harder to explain his client’s actions in the months that followed the AFC Championship. Based on Kessler’s grounds for appeal though, it doesn’t seem like he will even be attempting to answer those questions, so Brady might be sitting out September.
These are Kessler’s three main points of emphasis for Brady’s appeal:
Only Goodell can impose the discipline, per the collective bargaining agreement.
Well, Goodell issued a letter about the appeal on June 2 that has already pretty much obliterated the possibility that this argument will stand in his court. It was in that letter that he also reiterated why he wasn’t going to stand down as the hearing officer – a position that the commissioner almost never takes – because it’s his job to uphold the integrity of the league.
Goodell did not hear Adrian Peterson’s appeal. He did not hear Ray Rice’s appeal. He did not hear Greg Hardy’s appeal. But he has not backed down to pressure from the NFLPA to step away from this case because, again, Brady is not your typical player. He’s the face of the league. He is the point of reference for NFL integrity.
A four-game suspension for deflating footballs is “grossly inconsistent” with similar cheating.
Is it? Although it is recommended in the 2006 game operations manual that “altering the football” should carry a $25,000 fine, we also have to take context into account. Context like altering the football in a game that decides which team gets to go to the Super Bowl, or that the accused is perhaps the most notable player of his generation.
It’s not the same violation when Matt Leinart does it, because Matt Leinart isn’t any good. If Brady does it, it calls into question the integrity of the league – and remember, this is Goodell’s favorite word.
And whether or not deflating the football is as gross of a violation as taking steroids, which is also a four-game suspension, or worse than domestic violence, which initially earned Rice a two-game suspension until the infamous elevator video came out, is completely subjective. There really isn’t anything else to compare this suspension to, so it’s difficult to prove that it’s inconsistent.
The Wells Report is a joke.
Kessler and Brady will argue that the evidence in the report is “insufficient,” so in their minds (and the minds of the NFLPA), any reasonable doubt is enough to get the suspension reduced, if not completely vacated. They will likely argue that the science is bunk and that the text messages relayed between Pats employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski that allegedly name Brady (though by the looks of the texts, you’d think his name was “Fuck Tom”) as the requestor of smaller balls, don’t prove anything.
And maybe they’re right, but it won’t matter. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
Think of why Goodell has insisted on hearing this appeal. He did it because it’s his main job to protect the integrity of the NFL. Unless Brady and his lawyers can present a case that will completely erase any doubt about him cheating, then the integrity of the league will be called into question unless they throw the book at him. They have to show that they won’t tolerate rules infractions, even if they’re small infractions, from future Hall of Famers.
Especially from future Hall of Famers.
Goodell hasn’t participated in an appeal since “Bountygate” in 2012, but even then, he recused himself and handed it off to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. And then Tagliabue vacated those four suspensions. Since then, with Goodell still on the sidelines, players like Peterson, Rice, Richard Sherman and Ndamukong Suh have all won appeals against the NFL.
It seems as though Goodell has put himself in the middle of this case so that he can make sure that, unless Brady completely clears himself of any wrongdoing – in which case he should definitely have the suspension overturned – the commish alone has the power to uphold the suspension. Vacating or reducing the suspension without this evidence however, will call into the question the purpose of imposing such a harsh punishment in the first place.
Because when it comes to gauging the integrity of the league, there can be no half-measures.