(Roger Goodell photo courtesy of the NFL)
(Tom Brady photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
With Tom Brady’s surrender, we finally … mercifully … can put a period on DeflateGate after 18 long, miserable months. So mark it down, people: NFL 1, Tom Brady 0.
Because there are no winners here. Only losers … with the NFL at the head of the class.
For the league, it’s a black eye it brought on itself. It chose to tackle a case with more holes than Clyde Barrow and pursue it until it gained the resolution it not only sought but demanded. For Brady, it’s an asterisk attached to a legacy that deserves far, far better.
For most of us, however, it was much ado about nothing. Until it wasn’t. Then it became a contest of wills and egos – Brady vs. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell – with each determined to persevere.
Forget that there was no evidence tying Brady to the alleged crime. Forget that the Wells Report was attacked on all fronts as specious. Forget that the league’s lead witness, referee Walt Anderson, couldn’t remember what gauges he used … when those gauges were at the center of the league’s case. Forget that nothing happened to Carolina or Minnesota in 2015 after footballs were warmed (OK, tampered with) on a cold afternoon in Minneapolis. And forget that the league couldn’t sneak a fast ball past U.S. District Judge Richard Berman a year ago because of all the missteps it took putting its case together.
Nope, the NFL was going to demonstrate that it wouldn’t back down from its premier quarterback when logic, reason and sanity insisted it should. But that’s the problem. This had nothing to do with what should or shouldn’t happen. It was about what could happen, and so commissioner Roger Goodell fought to impose a harsh discipline to prove that … I don’t know … maybe just to prove that he could.
That is what the Second Court of Appeals ruled when it voted 2-1 to uphold Brady’s suspension. It didn’t rule on his guilt or innocence; it simply ruled on process and Goodell’s right to enforce his decision – no matter how bad that decision might be. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement gave him that right, and the court upheld it.
OK, fair enough.
But here’s what stinks: You have one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history, a guy who never gave anyone but opponents trouble, dealt the same punishment as miscreant Greg Hardy. Brady’s crime is that he was “generally aware”, as the Wells Report put it, of footballs being deflated. Hardy nearly killed a woman.
So much for justice.
But Brady’s alleged crime extended beyond the playing field. His mistake was not cooperating – or so the league says -- with the NFL in its investigation, with the destruction of his cellphone seen as evidence of guilt. Of course, no one knew what was on that cellphone, and Brady is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. But the league had no interest in Brady’s innocence; it simply was out to punish someone it perceived as not cooperating with an investigation that, from the beginning, made about as much sense as a David Lynch movie.
Goodell has said over and over that his concern is with “protecting the shield,” but you want to tell me how he protected it here? He took on the face of the league, put him … and us … through 18 months of legal gymnastics … and for what? To say he has the right to impose his “own brand of industrial justice,” a term coined by Judge Berman?
Give me a break.
If he’s so concerned about protecting "the shield" or “the integrity of the game” then why not suspend players caught using foreign substances – a clear violation of the rules? Instead, the San Diego Chargers were fined $20,000 in 2012 when they were found to have “sticky” towels, which they failed to surrender to officials when told.
So they’re fined, and Brady is suspended four games. And I’ll tell you why: Because this was about more than deflated footballs. This was about challenging the commissioner.
And Brady lost. Big time.
His reputation has been impugned, with “cheater” added to his resume – and not because of anything he did but because of what the league thinks he did. There was no evidence tying Brady to a crime, but so what? That didn’t deter the league’s attack dogs. The commissioner had the right to suspend Brady, and so he did -- after spending millions of dollars and months of a legal briefs on a case that, frankly, amounts to the NFL’s version of jaywalking.
Tom Brady will go down in history as one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, but the legitimacy of his accomplishments has been damaged by Goodell’s “brand of industrial justice.” No, this won’t prevent Brady from going to the Hall of Fame, but it will taint his legacy. No matter what happens from here, some persons will view Brady not as one the best NFL quarterbacks ever but as a cheater who succeeded because he broke the rules.
And that’s a shame. He doesn’t deserve it, but it’s as much a part of his record now as those four Lombardi trophies.
So congratulations to the NFL. Brady surrendered, and the league scored a victory. Except it’s a Pyrrhic victory, and it comes at an enormous cost – both to the reputation of the league and to the reputation of one of its most decorated players.