More than seven months after the AFC Championship game, when the Colts accused Tom Brady and the Patriots of using underinflated balls in the 45-7 rout, we finally have what should be closure on the controversy that has come to be known as Deflategate. U.S. District Court Judge ruled today in Brady’s appeal of the four-game suspension issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, vacating the suspension effective immediately, meaning Brady will be eligible to play in the NFL Kickoff Game in Foxborough, Mass., against the Steelers next Thursday as they begin their defense of their Super Bowl title.
In his 40-page decision — which was not intended to determine whether Brady was guilty of the Deflategate allegations — Berman outlined several issues in the NFL’s investigation and subsequent punishment that caused it to be unfair to Brady and the team, including the NFLPA being unable to interview NFL general counsel Jeff Pash during Brady’s initial appeal hearing in June and the league giving Brady “inadequate notice” about the potential penalties he faced in the Deflategate investigation. Berman also questioned how independent Ted Wells’ investigation, which was the league’s main reasoning for handing down the four-game ban, actually was.
Unsurprisingly, the league has announced plans to appeal Berman’s ruling. The appeal, however, should last several months and will likely not be over by the time the Super Bowl is played in February, clearing Brady to play for the entire season. In the statement announcing the plan to appeal, Goodell said the league “respectfully disagree[s]” with the today’s ruling. NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith issued a statement of his own, praising Berman’s decision, thanking the judge for his “careful consideration of the issue and fair and just result.” Patriots owner Robert Kraft also issued a statement that, of course, was appreciative of the ruling and praising Brady as a “classy person of the highest integrity.”
Personally, I thought the four-game suspension was a bit much since that’s a similar sentence that the league gives to players accused of crimes like domestic abuse or using performance-enhancing drugs, but I don’t think Brady should get away without any suspension. He wasn’t cooperative in his employer’s investigation and also wasn’t fully acquitted in the accusations against him so I think he should sit out one or two games. I don’t think Goodell handled this properly, though. There were reports recently that Brady was willing to settle with the league on a one-game suspension, but the commissioner wanted to go with the all-or-nothing approach and push for the four-game ban. If he wasn’t so arrogant and settled, he may have been able to save face a little and not have the suspension completely overturned like it was today.
I also question what kind of a future Goodell has in the league. This result is such an embarrassment to him and the league that the owners can’t be happy with this situation. I don’t think the owners will force Goodell out of his position right away, but I’m not sure they’ll give him a new contract when his current one expires in a couple years. Between this and the bungled Ray Rice suspension, the league has gotten such bad publicity in the last year that I think the owners have to put at least some of the blame on Goodell.