The NFL has taken action against the New England Patriots for deflating footballs used in games, including a four-game suspension for Tom Brady, a $US1 million fine for the team, and the loss of a 2016 first-round pick and a 2017 fourth-round pick.
The NFL explained the punishment, citing the Patriots’ history of violating league rules, their attempt to gain a competitive advantage, and the lack of cooperation by Brady and others.
But while many still feel the punishment was too harsh, there is a growing sentiment that the penalties were just as much about commissioner Roger Goodell sending a strong message to NFL owners as it was about penalising the Patriots.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has long been considered Goodell’s biggest supporter. He was once nicknamed “the assistant commissioner” by at least one NFL executive.
Goodell won a fight for the commissioner’s job with help from Kraft, and the Patriots’ owner is one of the owners who determines Goodell’s annual compensation — a salary and bonus package that reached $US44 million in the most recent fiscal year.
While some worried this was a conflict of interest, the penalties handed down suggested otherwise.
According to Peter King of the MMQB.com, the underlying message in the letter sent from NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent to the Patriots was “we do not play favourites.” One official on another team told King he felt “heartened” by the penalties in light of the Goodell-Kraft relationship, suggesting they were unexpected harsh.
Adam Schefter on ESPN Radio called the relationship between Goodell and Kraft “one of the complicating factors” in the decision to punish the Patriots. He explained that ultimately the punishment was an attempt to reestablish the league office as the ruling force in the league.
“I think part of this was a message to all the owners that it doesn’t matter who you are in this league. It doesn’t matter what organisation it is. I am going to treat everybody the same. Because my interest is preserving the integrity of the game or at least attempting to. The other thing it does is, After the year the league went through, when it wasn’t necessarily as strong as it could have been and should have been on any number of discipline issues, it learned, ‘We will never, ever go too light on a penalty every again.’ And the Patriots, to a certain extent, are feeling the effects of that.”
An anonymous NFL owner told Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report that he also believes the punishment was a message to the rest of the league.
“It’s positive that we sent a message that cheating will not be tolerated,” the owner told Bleacher Report. “I do think teams are looking around and saying, ‘What does this all mean?’ Teams are figuring it all out. But I think the bottom line is, don’t cheat, and you don’t have to worry about getting punished.”
After the Deflategate scandal first broke and the Patriots were accused of deflating footballs for a competitive advantage, the relationship between Goodell and Kraft appeared to sour. Now, thanks to this message sent by Goodell, the relationship may have gotten even worse.
According to Freeman’s anonymous owner, the relationship between Goodell and Kraft is “pretty much dead.”
If true, that is a hefty price paid by Goodell that could have a lasting impact on him personally. But in a time when Goodell’s leadership has been questioned in the wake of other scandals, this punishment may have been just as much about reasserting his command.
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