Deflategate ruling makes it clear that Tom Brady’s suspension is no longer about his guilt or innocence

Roger Goodell and Tom Brady

On Monday, the
2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reinstated Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension in connection to the Deflategate scandal. In doing so, they also made it clear that this had little to do with whether or not he was part of a conspiracy to intentionally deflate footballs during NFL games.
The Deflategate case is no longer about deflated footballs and Brady’s involvement. Rather, it is about Roger Goodell’s power, and according to the appeals court, the players’ association gave him all the power he needed to suspend Brady for four games.

From the ruling:

Our review of the records yields the firm conclusion that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player. Accordingly, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND with instructions to confirm the award.

In the ruling, the court went further, noting that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) gave the commissioner plenty of power to rule on Brady’s case and to decide the type of punishment. More importantly, the commissioner did not necessarily need proof of guilt to do so. Rather, he was free to punish if he felt Brady’s general actions hurt the league (emphasis ours):

Here, that authority was especially broad. The Commissioner was authorised to impose discipline for, among other things, “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence, in the game of professional football.” In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline. Although this tripartite regime may appear somewhat unorthodox, it is the regime bargained for and agreed upon by the parties, which we can only presume they determined was mutually satisfactory.

The court also seemingly put blame on the players’ association for giving Goodell so much power (emphasis ours):

Here, the parties contracted in the CBA to specifically allow the Commissioner to sit as the arbitrator in all disputes brought pursuant to Article 46, Section 1(a). They did so knowing full well that the Commissioner had the sole power of determining what constitutes “conduct detrimental,” and this knowing that the Commissioner would have a stake both in the underlying discipline and in every arbitration brought pursuant to Section 1(a). Had the parties wished to restrict the Commissioner’s authority, they could have fashioned a different agreement.

In other words, the court seems to be saying that the players can’t agree to give Goodell power and then complain to the courts when he uses it.

We may never know if anybody attempted to deflate footballs. But this is clear: when it comes to suspension of Tom Brady, it no longer matters. The NFL thinks he did, Roger Goodell has the right to punish him for it, and it was the players who gave him that power.

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