The problem with Roger Goodell putting himself in charge of Tom Brady's suspension appeal

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will preside over Tom Brady’s appeal of the four-game suspension the league gave him for Deflategate.

Goodell’s decision to hear the appeal is an affront to the players’ union, which challenged the league to appoint a neutral arbitrator to handle the case.

Goodell isn’t neutral. He authorised the league’s decision to suspend Brady, fine the Patriots $US1 million, and take away a 2016 first-round pick and a 2017 fourth-round pick. In a statement announcing the penalties, Goodell acknowledged his role in deciding the punishment.

“We reached these decisions after extensive discussion with [NFL executive vice president] Troy Vincent and many others,” he said. “We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and the thoroughness and independence of the Wells report.”

In a letter to the Patriots, Vincent said the commissioner gave the case his “full consideration.”

The absolute power that comes with Goodell serving these dual roles has been the focus of criticism from players. Presumably, Goodell didn’t come to the decision to suspend Brady lightly. It came after a thorough examination of the Wells report, during which he was forced to make up his mind about the facts of the case and the extent to which Brady did or didn’t cooperate with the investigation.

Now, in hearing Brady’s appeal, Roger Goodell has to decide whether or not Roger Goodell was right in punishing Brady.

Even if we give Goodell the benefit of the doubt and assume he’ll go into Brady’s appeal with a completely open and neutral disposition, the fact that he’s hearing the appeal hurts the legitimacy of the entire case.

The Wells report is soft enough in its conclusions, and the evidence is circumstantial enough in nature, that Deflategate Trutherism is rampant in New England. Patriots fans already think their team is the victim in all of this, and the team is just fuelling the fire by publishing a wild 20,000-word website attacking the report point-by-point.

The NFL had a chance to bolster the legitimacy of the investigation and its conclusions by putting Brady’s appeal in the hands of a neutral arbitrator. If a judge with no preexisting ties to either side ruled that the league was just in its punishment, it would have gone a long way in convincing people that the league got it right.

But now, the league is in a no-win situation. If Goodell denies Brady’s appeal, he’ll get slammed for being biased and exercising absolute power. If Goodell reduces Brady’s suspension, it will make the league look incompetent, and fuel the belief that the Wells report was a flawed waste of time and money.

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