The NFL doesn’t lose often. Unless, of course, it is in an actual court of law knocking them down for overstepping authority instead of its own arbitrator backing commissioner Roger Goodell. Now, after upholding Tom Brady’s four-game suspension in DeflateGate, the NFL likely will see Brady in an appeals court.
Consider for a minute the NFL’s recent track record with suspensions.
The NFL (read: Roger Goodell), concerned about the image of the almighty “Shield,” suspended former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice indefinitely after video surfaced of him knocking unconscious his then-fiancée in a hotel elevator. That came after an initial two-game suspension when the NFL either didn’t get or didn’t ask for the proper answers when looking into the incident before the video surfaced (TMZ got the video but the NFL didn’t). The act, of course, was reprehensible and the NFL acted swiftly with its indefinite suspension after the video was published. In November, after missing the majority of the season, a court ruled that Rice should be reinstated.
Rice said things like he was “ashamed, sorry” and “failed miserably.”
“I failed miserably, but I wouldn’t call myself a failure because I’m working my way back up,” he said.
But Rice never worked his way back into the graces of the NFL. The Ravens released him, the NFL suspended him, and no other team touched him. At 27 years old and the Ravens’ career leader in total scrimmage yards, no team wanted Rice. They still don’t. More than a year after Rice struck the woman who is now his wife, he hasn’t had so much as a workout for an NFL team.
In Rice’s case, the NFL acted mildly with an initial two-game suspension when news first surfaced of the incident, then harshly when public backlash escalated with the video of the punch going public. But its indefinite suspension was overturned by a neutral arbiter.
Former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, now with the Dallas Cowboys, was also in limbo with the NFL this offseason. After the league reportedly uncovered evidence associated with Hardy in a domestic violence case to warrant a suspension, sources far and wide reported a six-game suspension was likely.
The NFL came down tougher. Hardy was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list during free agency, but that didn’t scare away the Cowboys, even if others were leery of the impending suspension. Hardy received a one-year contract that could have approached $10 million if he were to play the entire season, a deal loaded with per-game incentives (a wise move, by the way, for the Cowboys given the uncertain nature of his playing status).
In April, the NFL came down with a heavier-than-expected hand, throwing a 10-game suspension Hardy’s way. But, per usual of late, that wasn’t the end of the story. Earlier this month, Hardy’s suspension was dropped from 10 games to four games upon appeal.
Brady’s suspension, however, wasn’t reduced by the NFL, bucking the recent trend. But there is good reason for that if the NFL’s version of events is true.
The NFL says Brady “directed” that the cell phone he used for texting Patriots employees involved with deflating footballs used in the AFC Championship be destroyed, despite the NFL’s request to view the text messages.
“He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone,” the NFL said in a statement announcing his upheld suspension. “?During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.”
In this case, the lack of cooperation might have cost Brady a reduced suspension, unless, of course, the evidence was so powerfully pointing to Brady there was no denying his involvement. Apparently Brady wasn’t willing to take that risk.
“The commissioner found that Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs,” the NFL said in the release.
Goodell also had to deal with pressure from owners that wanted to be sure that his cozy relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft didn’t soften his disciplinary power over one of Kraft’s players.
In other words, there was nothing simple with the Brady suspension and much more at work than simply “did he or didn’t he?” If he’s destroying evidence that was requested of him, then Brady deserves the four-game suspension and will have to hope for a labor-siding judge in an appeal outside of the NFL.
In the past, the NFL has leaned toward reducing suspensions and may have set up Brady’s four-game suspension with that in mind. However, his lack of cooperation with the NFL leads to even more suspicion, but how will that affect him in a court of law instead of Roger’s Roundtable? If the evidence isn’t available and he can get his appeal heard quickly by a judge without NFL ties, we might not have seen the last of Brady in the first month of the season.
Goodell had a chance to once again play both the heavy hand and the kind one (through arbiter Harold Henderson). Goodell can look tough in the eyes of the sponsors and act like the NFL is gracious after meeting with players and having the arbiter reduce the suspension.
With Hardy and Rice, it was allegations of domestic violence. With Adrian Peterson, it was allegations of child abuse. The NFL blew it with Rice’s initial two-game suspension and heard the backlash. They weren’t going to make that mistake again.
Tom Brady’s case pales in comparison. Letting the air out of a game ball is against the playing rules, but it doesn’t rise to the level of acts against humanity. And his suspension wasn’t issued for a violation of the conduct policy; instead, it came under the rules of competitive play and for not cooperating with the league’s investigation.
Hardy and Brady facing the same four-game suspension for vastly different violations doesn’t balance.
But, now, that’s for an impartial judge to decide.