(Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Once upon a time I thought the NFL might hesitate to hammer quarterback Tom Brady because he’s one of the faces of the league. Now, I’m starting to wonder … and I wonder if they hammer him precisely because he's one of the faces of the league.
The message would be loud and clear: Nobody’s above the law. Not even a four-time Super Bowl winner.
Look, it seems pretty clear by now that Brady will be suspended – if not for his alleged role in deflating footballs in the 2014 AFC championship game, then for not cooperating with the NFL in its investigation. And I get that. At this point, a cover-up – or alleged cover-up – is as bad as the crime. I mean, if Tom Brady had nothing to hide, then why hide it?
Yet he did.
But there’s something else going on here, and it’s this: Tom Brady doesn’t get more latitude than, say, the guy punished for smoking weed just because he’s Tom Brady … or because he’s white … or because he has Hollywood good looks … or because he’s rich and famous … or because he’s married to the world’s foremost model … or because he’s the star quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champions.
In fact, he might get less.
And here’s why: There has always been an expectation that, when investigator Ted Wells released his report, the league office might err on the side of leniency because of its cozy relationship with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft. There was also the expectation the league office might go easy on Brady, too, because he’s not only one of the game’s great quarterbacks but the guy who just starred in one of the most memorable Super Bowls ever and who, at least until now, represented what’s good about the shield the commissioner Roger Goodell seeks to protect.
But that’s where the hammer drops.
The NFL must demonstrate equanimity here to prove that there is nothing about Tom Brady – including his All-American image – that can or should protect him from severe punishment. First, the Wells Report says he probably was involved in the deflation of footballs used in the January playoff defeat of Indianapolis, and that’s tampering with the integrity of the game. Second, he failed to cooperate with investigators, failing to turn over emails, texts or electronic communications requested by them – actions that constitute conduct detrimental under NFL guidelines.
Make no mistake, people are following this decision closely to see if there’s a hint of favoritism. In fact, for weeks cynics contended that if this were anyone else but Tom Brady, he’d be suspended -- but that Brady will skate because … well, because he’s Tom Brady.
But they’re wrong. It’s precisely because he is Tom Brady that Goodell and the NFL will make certain to get this right – demonstrating to detractors, cynics and skeptics that one of the most decorated quarterbacks in league history is held to the same standard as others when it comes to violating NFL rules.
Frankly, the situation is not all that dissimilar to an incident that occurred seven years ago when then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg waged a war on illegal guns – pushing for a full prosecution of a state law that requires a mandatory prison sentence for anyone carrying a loaded handgun.
Then, lo and behold, that November Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally discharged a loaded weapon at a night club, shooting himself in the leg, and Bloomberg had his chance to make an example of a public figure.
“I think it would be an outrage,” Bloomberg said then, “if we didn’t prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain – make their living because of their visibility. They’re the role models for our kids.”
Burress not only was prosecuted; he accepted a plea deal that sentenced him to two years in prison.
OK, so discharging a handgun in a crowded nightclub and deflating footballs aren’t comparable. But the response might be. If Goodell is to make the point that he will prosecute fully anyone tampering with the integrity of the game … if he wants to demonstrate to players that cooperation with league investigations is not only recommended but required of all NFL employees … then what better way to prove it than by punishing someone who practically dares the league to act on both counts?
Tom Brady, get ready to sit down.