Roger Goodell has really come of age as the top cop in a year. On Monday, the NFL announced its decision on “Deflategate” and essentially said taking air out of footballs in a bathroom is twice as bad as punching out your fiancee in an elevator.
It’s a wonder Goodell didn’t institute a stop-and-frisk law for the league’s locker-room attendants and ballboys.
Yes, the league came down hard on Tom Brady, suspending the sport’s biggest star for the first four games of next season. They also hammered the Pats (who had a prior cheating offense) with a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks, including their first-rounder in 2016.
Speaking through Troy Vincent, his vice president, Goodell made it clear that cheating will not be tolerated. The “integrity of the game” is paramount, after all. The league couldn’t turn its head to the issue of deflated footballs, as it did for years to damaged brains.
The four-game suspension was harsh, though no surprise. I figured it would be three games. The Vegas odds said 3½. The $1 million fine and loss of draft picks was predictable for a team that had a previous spying offense and wasn’t fully cooperative in the NFL investigation.
This is consistent with Goodell’s campaign to seem tougher on crime in the aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal, when the commissioner initially gave Rice only two games and claimed the NFL had no knowledge of a video that showed Rice assaulting his fiancee in the elevator.
Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said his client will likely appeal and get his sentence reduced. He had three days to do so. Some are calling for Brady to waive his right to appeal and come clean with the public.
The thinking is that if Brady admits he was “generally aware” of the balls being deflated and says he’s sorry for a relative misdemeanor, it might help his fraying image.
We are, after all, a forgiving people – especially when it comes to the peccadilloes of our famous athletes, entertainers and politicians. Just show a little humility and remorse. Come down to the level of the little man, apologize, and we’ll restore you to your pedestal.
But I don’t expect that from Brady. He insisted from the start that he did nothing wrong. The evidence against him is circumstantial, if compelling. Yee has been defiant since the Wells Report came out last week, calling it “ridiculous” and unfair.
“The NFL has a well-documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions that are often overturned when truly independent and neutral judges or arbitrators preside,” Yee said, “and a former federal judge has found the commissioner has abused his discretion in the past, so this outcome does not surprise me.”
Yee said an independent hearing officer would tear apart the report. You can’t blame him. Yee is paid to protect Brady. I imagine he advised Brady not to fully cooperate with investigators, knowing that so many NFL investigations have come into question lately.
Brady almost surely lied. The NFL is hardly above reproach on that score. Goodell said he wasn’t aware of the video that showed Rice punching out Janay Palmer in the elevator when he gave Rice a two-game suspension. It’s a dubious claim, based on subsequent reports.
Goodell tried to make up for his original mistake on the Rice case by giving him an indefinite suspension and suggesting he be banned for life. But an independent arbitrator, former federal judge Barbara A. Jones, rejected Goodell’s self-serving excuse.
Jones said the commissioner had to be aware of what happened in the elevator when he suspended Rice the first time. She called Rice’s indefinite suspension “an abuse of discretion” and overturned the ban.
Basically, Jones called Goodell a liar. There is also speculation that the commissioner and Dean Blandino, his vice president of officiating, were not forthcoming about their suspicions about the Pats deflating footballs before the AFC title game against the Colts.
So Brady isn’t the only one who plays loose with the facts. It’s nothing new for Goodell. We’ll probably never know for sure if he saw the Rice elevator video, or if he was aware that someone in the NFL offices had seen it.
Assuming there’s no secret camera in that bathroom at Gillette Stadium, we’ll never know for certain whether Jim McNally, the Pats’ game-day attendant, made that 90-second stop to deflate the footballs. And Brady can always claim McNally acted on his own.
That’s why an independent arbitrator would probably find the four-game suspension too high. The NFL hasn’t done well on appeals lately. Rice won an appeal of his suspension. So did Adrian Peterson, and four of the Saints who were suspended by Goodell in the bounty scandal.
All of those cases involved players doing physical harm to another human being. Cheating is a different matter, I know. Still, an independent judge might feel Goodell is taking the “integrity of the game” thing a bit far to appease the masses.
Odds are, the NFL factored in a likely appeal and a reduction when it gave Brady four games. Even if it was cut in half, Brady would still have to sit out two games, which seems like a fair punishment.
That would be just fine with Bills fans, I suppose. If Brady gets two games, he’ll miss the second game of the season in Buffalo. The Bills would be the big winner, because they would be the only AFC East team to play the Pats during Brady’s suspension.
An appeal and reduced suspension won’t help Brady’s legacy. Even if he came out and admitted that he orchestrated the underinflating of footballs on game days, most fans would still believe his achievements should come with an asterisk.
That’s fine. Brady brought much of this on himself. He felt he needed to bend the rules for an edge. He’s hardly alone there. But let’s face it, the NFL is hardly the standard-bearer for integrity and truth.
Trash Brady all you like. But keep in mind that the NFL dodges the truth as a matter of course, whether it’s concussions, domestic violence, steroids or its own shabby officiating.
The truth is an often elusive thing in the richest sports league on Earth. Until the time of reckoning, you do what’s best for the franchise.