By Scott Taylor
Tom Brady will start the 2015 NFL season in uniform for the New England Patriots.
In a major rebuke of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday morning, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman shot down the four-game suspension that Goodell had handed the New England Patriots quarterback for his alleged role in something the media dubbed “Delategate.”
The judge came out forcefully in favour of Brady, the Patriots and the NFL Players Association. As a result, Brady will be in uniform for the season opener next Thursday against Pittsburgh.
Brady was suspended four games for his alleged role in the deflation of footballs before the AFC Championship game, a game the Patriots won 45-7 over the Indianapolis Colts. He was suspended for four games despite the fact the Wells Report, the result of the league’s investigation into the incident, claimed Brady had only “some knowledge” of the deflation of footballs. Brady denied knowing about the deflation of the game balls after a game in which the league’s officials — on-field experts who handle the footballs on every offensive play — didn’t notice anything was amiss until an Indianapolis player pointed out a “soft ball” after an interception.
As Judge Berman pointed out, Brady was more effective after the allegedly deflated balls were removed from the game.
The ruling from Judge Berman was handed down after a little more than a month of failed settlement talks. Many legal experts believed the judge was trying to force a settlement between the league and the union, but when Goodell and his minions decided they wanted the judge to make the decision, Berman stunned them by siding with Brady and the NFLPA. It was the league that chose the court in which Brady’s legal appeal would take place.
And there was no doubt about Berman’s position. He maligned the league for the way it handled an alleged scandal that should not have resulted in anything more than a 10-yard penalty and perhaps a fine.
Originally, an NFL investigation led by Ted Wells, resulted in Brady’s suspension. Then after Brady appealed, Commissioner Goodell upheld the appeal. It was the fourth time the courts have shot down a Goodell penalty against a player.
The NFL Players Association released the following statement on Thursday morning:
“The rights of Tom Brady and of all NFL players under the collective bargaining agreement were affirmed today by a Federal Judge in a court of the NFL’s choosing. We thank Judge Berman for his time, careful consideration of the issue and fair and just result.
“This decision should prove, once and for all, that our Collective Bargaining Agreement does not grant this Commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading. While the CBA grants the person who occupies the position of Commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position, the union did not agree to attempts to unfairly, illegally exercise that power, contrary to what the NFL has repeatedly and wrongfully claimed.
“We are happy for the victory of the rule of law for our players and our fans. This court’s decision to overturn the NFL Commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses. Collective bargaining is a much better process that will lead to far better results.”
Berman’s decision was 40 pages in length, but this was the key statement: “The Court finds that no player alleged or found to have had a general awareness of the inappropriate ball deflation activities of others or who allegedly schemed with others to let air out of footballs in a championship game and also had not cooperated in an ensuing investigation, reasonably could be on notice that their discipline would (or should) be the same as applied to a player who violated the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.”
The ruling is obviously a clear victory for Brady. According to NFL Media’s Ron Rapaport, “Brady had considered accepting a one-game suspension, but Brady did not want to accept any responsibility for the findings of the Wells Report.”
According to Judge Berman, he does not have to accept either a suspension or the report.