Today is a landmark day in the NFL, but it isn't anything to celebrate. In fact, today we may have seen the beginning of a legal battle between the NFL and their best team. It seems that the Patriots are the new Raiders and Bob Kraft may be a modern day Al Davis. Some expect the Patriots to accept the fine and draft pick dockage, but after reading Don Yee' statement (agent of Tom Brady) after the ruling was handed down, it is clear that Tom Brady is going to fight, and after hearing the statement from team owner Robert Kraft, it is clear the team is got Tom's back and is ready to fight too.
The Wells Report, which was called an "independent investigation" by Goodell, came to the conclusion that Tom Brady had to have known that two Patriots attendants were taking air out of balls to give the Patriots an unfair advantage. Although there is no proof whatsoever, Ted Wells and his team determined that Brady is "most likely" guilty. That, in itself, should have completely disqualified this report and made people realize how much gray area remained, but the media ran with the story because for some odd reason, everyone wants to tear down a winner and accuse them of cheating. It's like we don't want to enjoy greatness; we've become a cynical society and sports and getting dragged right into it. The NFL decided to wait five days before handing down their punishment to Brady and the Patriots, and man did they screw it up.
Obviously Brady and the Patriots are going to appeal this ridiculous punishment. The easiest argument for the Patriots and Brady to make is league precedent regarding the rule of tampering with the footballs, which is a $25k fine at max. This isn't the first time this has happened and there have been two recent cases. In 2012, the San Diego Chargers were fined $20K for using stickum on balls. They applied the stickum to towels and rubbed it on the balls, and when NFL officials came to seize the towels after being made aware, the Charger attendants refused to give the towels up. This past season, the Vikings were playing the Panthers and team attendants were caught warming the balls up with the sideline heater, a practice that is also considered tampering with the ball. The teams paid a $25K fine and the league didn't have much to say about it at all, because that is what happens with minor infractions.
Now we have a situation where the Patriots are accused of ball tampering, and the league spends millions of dollars to prove that they were guilty. Why didn't the league just fine the Patriots $25k the moment they realized the balls were slightly under the PSI level? It doesn't seem fair to change the rules based on the player or team, but that seems to be the case with the Patriots; if they're involved with anything that seems "off", they are going to be scrutinized, and that isn't because they're cheaters, it's because an overzealous, power hungry commissioner wanted to prove that he was right and show the public that he was still in charge after public opinion of him dipped following the numerous domestic violence issues dogging the NFL over the last year. This punishment is a public relations move by Goodell, plain and simple. The problem is, it is going to land him in court versus one of the most powerful owners in the league, a man that was his ally when everyone wanted him fired over mishandling the Ray Rice situation. Here is what Robert Kraft had to say regarding the punishment handed down to his Patriots:
"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with the footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league. Today's punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence. We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world. We recognize our fans' concerns regarding the NFL's penalties and share their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report. Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered."
Those do not sound like words of a person ready to sign a seven figure check to donate to the NFL's front office. Kraft is taking this to court if need be, and with the statement he released tonight, his lawyers are clearly confident that they are going to win this battle in REAL court, not the NFL's Kangaroo Court, which is led by an commissioner who lies his way to $40 million per year.
The NFL and Roger Goodell were angered by Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and the whole Patriots organization when they basically told them to prove it or shut up back in February. The moment that happened, the league was adamant on proving them to have "cheated", and they were going to find something or manufacture something that the American public would buy. The Wells Report was perfect- long, vague, and boring, but this time, Roger Goodell should have realized he was dealing with a bitter Patriots team and fan base, and without real evidence, there is no way that punishment will hold up. Fasten your seatbelts Patriot fans, this is going to get interesting.