When the ruling was handed down Thursday morning in U.S. District Court, you could practically hear a distinct ear-splitting and expletive-laced wail, a familiar moan rehearsed many times over the years after watching Tom Brady dominate the Bills, echoing across Western New York.
Certainly, a large population of Bills fans had champagne on ice while waiting for a federal court to uphold Brady’s suspension. It would validate suspicions that he was a lowdown cheater who broke the rules and was issued the punishment he deserved. Brady haters everywhere would rejoice over justice served.
That was the game plan against Brady, right?
You know Brady. He always has a way of blowing up the simplest of plans. A federal judge handed Commissioner Roger Goodell yet another defeat to keep his losing streak alive. Brady’s lawyers did what their client did for years while running the Patriots’ offense. They picked apart the opponent and made it look easy.
Fans stayed true to their allegiance, of course, because that’s what fans do. They pick sides. They don’t have time or patience to break down legal arguments. His detractors examined the charges against him and found him guilty. His supporters poked holes in the NFL’s case and concluded he was innocent.
The ruling didn’t suppress anger in NFL outposts like Buffalo, where fans pointed to cheating in rationalizing Brady’s dominance over his 15-year career. The Patriots had won 35 straight home games against division opponents before the Bills beat them in a meaningless season finale last year in Gillette Stadium.
Brady played only the first half in that game and didn’t throw a pass while falling to 23-3 against the Bills as a starter. Is this the right time to remind everyone that five weeks later he won his fourth Super Bowl, and was named MVP for the third time, two weeks after he was suspected of gaining an unfair advantage?
Go ahead, scream from the mountaintops, release your frustration and keep hating Brady if that somehow soothes your discomfort. Get it all out. But it would be wise for people to redirect their anger toward Goodell, whose ego and incompetence compromised the very honor code he claimed to enforce.
Judge Richard M. Berman’s ruling wasn’t a victory for Brady so much as it was an indictment of Goodell.
Goodell loses credibility with each day he remains in office. Brady’s case was his fifth straight defeat. Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Greg Hardy also had their suspensions overturned. The bounty scandal in New Orleans was another loss. Given how the appeals process has gone for Goodell, it’s a good thing he’s not on death row.
Every time he loses, he empowers players he’s attempting to discipline. If he’s allowed to keep swinging a heavy hammer, players are certain to challenge him. He looks vulnerable. He should expect more players appealing suspensions and fines. If anyone deserves to be banished, it’s him.
To be clear, Berman didn’t absolve Brady from wrongdoing. He merely agreed with the quarterback’s argument that the process was unfair. It was a technicality. The Wells Report, littered with vague phrases such as “generally aware” and “more probable than not,” had more holes than a cheese grater. But that mattered little to Goodell, who was busy trying to repair his reputation after he was humiliated for initially being soft on Rice.
Regardless, I’m guessing Brady was aware that he was using deflated footballs against the Colts, which started this mess. I’m acutely aware that he didn’t gain a competitive advantage in that particular game. You should be aware he was accused of an equipment violation, according to NFL rules, punishable by a $25,000 fine.
I’ll stick to my assessment when the story first broke: The case was blown out of proportion because it involved Brady and the Patriots going into the Super Bowl. Goodell was swept up by the player in question, the magnitude of the game and the power of his office. He buckled to public pressure, overplayed his hand and overstepped his authority.
If Kyle Orton was caught doing the same after beating the Lions in Week Five, it would have been forgotten before Week Six. Let’s remember that it was an infraction, not a felony.
Brady wasn’t the first player accused of unscrupulously trying to gain an advantage and will not be the last.
No wonder why fans were frustrated and confused. They were trying to navigate three different courts – Kangaroo Court (see: National Football League), U.S. District Court and the Court of Public Opinion – that became tangled in the Brady case.
The NFL is not a democracy and should not be mistaken for a court of law.
Goodell has served as judge, jury and executioner in a broken system. Not only did he hand down Brady’s initial punishment, which was too severe, he allowed himself to make the final ruling after arbitration.
How does that make sense?
In federal court, Berman focused on procedural matters involving the collective bargaining agreement. He concluded that the idea Brady was “generally aware” others deflated footballs didn’t equate to guilt. The same goes for Brady smashing his cell phone and refusing to cooperate with the league’s investigation.
The judge also ruled Brady wasn’t told that deflating footballs was prohibited or informed of the punishment for doing so.
It didn’t mean Brady was innocent, only that the league’s procedures were flawed. The league was exposed after Brady took the case to federal court with real lawyers and real judges.
Still, it raises the question: Did Brady cheat? That will be decided in the Court of Public Opinion, where Goodell has little say and legal rulings mean nothing.
Brady is renowned for his attention to detail. For him to not know two equipment guys deflated the footballs, assuming they weren’t under orders from him, is a stretch. It looks like he was trying to gain an advantage, no matter how slight. If he did nothing wrong, he would have been more cooperative.
In case you never noticed, Brady is competitive. The same qualities that made him a great quarterback also drove him to fight the NFL. He refused to accept Goodell’s punishment. He sized up his opponent and refused to back down. He kept competing and, as usual, he won. And that means Goodell lost.
Brady is expected to start against the Steelers next Thursday, kicking off the season on national television. He should be under center Sept. 20 when the Pats play the Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. You can practically hear the reception waiting for him when he arrives.
The People vs. Tom Brady will sound all too familiar. Kids, cover your ears.