Since he initially suspended Ray Rice for a measly two games after the running back knocked out his future wife in an elevator, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been under pressure to get tough on crime. In fact, he has made an effort to come down harder on players who break the law/rules/noses.
Adrian Peterson was officially suspended indefinitely in November, but he missed 15 games last season after hitting his son with a stick and violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. Greg Hardy was banned for the first 10 games of the 2015 season after he was charged with domestic abuse.
Marcell Dareus was given one game after he was charged with felony possession of synthetic marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He avoided punishment from the league for a street-racing incident the same month that ended when his vehicle struck a tree near a busy intersection.
No doubt, the Bills and their fans were relieved when Goodell handed down his punishment to Dareus. He was, after all, charged with a crime in 2014 but was allowed to play last season. The dominant defensive tackle apologized, and he will be back on the field when the Bills play the Patriots in Week Two.
Tom Brady, however, will not.
Brady was suspended for four games because he used deflated footballs in a blowout win in the AFC Championship game. He didn’t beat his wife or kids. He wasn’t caught with drugs. His crime was trying to gain an unfair advantage, cheating, by altering equipment used in a football game.
Dareus resolved the drug charges by entering a substance-abuse program. The misdemeanor traffic-related charges were reduced to violations after Dareus agreed host a free football camp. He was convicted in court of nothing more than failure to keep right and speeding. That's not the issue.
The NFL isn’t a court of law. It has its judge, jury and executioner rolled into one, Goodell, who at best has been inconsistent in the penalty phase. Goodell often takes court rulings into account when making his decisions. Too often, mainly because plea arrangements are made, legal conclusions fail to reflect what actually happened.
This doesn’t mean that Dareus should have been given a stiffer punishment. It does mean there was inequity when it came to Brady. He didn’t break the law. He broke a rule. At least that’s what the Wells Report suggested. The difference in their punishments comes down to public reaction.
Fans shrugged their shoulders over Dareus, but they were outraged by Brady. Goodell allowed their response to influence him. Essentially, he put the NFL’s integrity ahead of his own.