Don’t be surprised if Tom Brady and the New England Patriots weasel out of their Deflategate punishment.
Admitting to deception and obfuscation? Giving a humble apology for an error of hubris? Definitely not the “Patriot Way.”
Brady has lawyered up. The Patriots issued on Thursday a stinging point-by-point rebuttal of the NFL’s conclusions. The team will fight their quarterback’s four-game suspension and the franchise’s penalty, which is a $1 million fine and the loss of a 2016 first-round draft pick and a 2017 fourth-round pick.
Super Bowl champion Brady and the Patriots are defying NFL commissioner Roger “The Sheriff” Goodell by saying, in essence, “Put your badge away. We are bucking your authority. You have not proven your flimsy case.”
Granted, the alleged crime in this case is minor, so silly that it’s an embarrassment to all involved. Call it CSI: PSI.
After a three-month investigation of underinflated footballs — repeat: a three-month investigation of underinflated footballs — that were used in New England’s 45-7 AFC title game puncture of the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL found that two Patriots equipment and locker room assistants broke the rules and, “more probable than not,” Brady was “generally aware” of the skulduggery.
It sounds similar to the arguments we all had playing street football as kids, which were typically resolved after a couple minutes of finger-pointing with the acknowledgment that, “This is a waste of time. Let’s play.”
Get lawyers involved and it’s about billable hours.
Now Brady has a lawyer, too, and Jeffrey Kessler, a labor law and antitrust expert, has logged notable victories over the NFL. He got Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson’s indefinite suspension overturned. This thing is going to be a slow leak, another lengthy appeal of misconduct hanging over the NFL.
The four-game suspension is harsh given that it’s the same penalty for a player caught using performance-enhancing drugs.
So Brady’s anger is understandable, as is his methodology. Former New Orleans Saint (and Miami Hurricane and Coral Gables High Cavalier) linebacker Jonathan Vilma overturned his season-long suspension in the Bountygate case by taking Goodell and the NFL to federal court, and he urged Brady to challenge the league.
“The NFL has a well-documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions … and a former federal judge has found the commissioner has abused his discretion in the past, so this outcome does not surprise me,” said Brady’s agent, Don Yee, in castigating Ted Wells’ report and calling Brady’s penalty “ridiculous.”
Yee was in part referring to the NFL’s initial two-game suspension of Ray Rice for knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator, a penalty only altered after a videotape of the ugly incident became a hot potato that wound up in Goodell’s lap. Rice’s indefinite suspension was later reversed by the ex-judge, Barbara S. Jones.
The NFL Players’ Association filed an appeal Thursday on Brady’s behalf, taking a shot at the neutrality of investigator Wells by asserting that if the league is confident “that the evidence in their report is ‘direct’ and ‘inculpatory,’ then they should be confident enough to present their case before someone who is truly independent.”
Here’s the rub for the Patriots: The franchise had a prior violation for Spygate, when the team and coach Bill Belichick were punished for videotaping opposing coaches in order to steal play-calling signals.
Eight years later, the team is accused of cheating again.
Couple the repeat offender status with Wells’ criticism of Brady and the team for being uncooperative during the investigation, and the Patriots were hit with severe sanctions.
The nose-thumbing attitude is what rankles. Brady and the Patriots made the outcome worse for themselves by obstructing the process. Guilty of smugness in the first degree.
No authority can forgive dishonesty. That’s why Major League Baseball threw the book at Alex Rodriguez. That’s why the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had to end the Lance Armstrong charade. Liars compound their mistakes.
But Patriots owner Robert Kraft asserts the team did not tamper with those footballs or lie about it. Bruised by what they call unfair punishment, Brady and the Patriots have armed themselves to discredit Wells’ evidence. Deflategate has suddenly blown up into a power struggle between a commissioner struggling to clean up the NFL’s image and one of its most prominent owners and most successful superstars.
It will be fascinating to see who wins and who loses. Don’t be surprised if Brady doesn’t miss a minute of action.