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Brady’s 4-game suspension upheld

Tom Brady’s suspension stands.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell rejected an appeal by the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player against a four-game suspension imposed in May for Brady’s involvement in the New England Patriots’ deflated-ball controversy.

Brady’s ban was handed down May 11, five days after investigators commissioned by the league concluded that the two- time NFL MVP was probably “at least generally aware” that two Patriots staffers deflated game balls to below the league’s minimum air pressure before the conference championship game. The Patriots were fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks, a discipline team owner Robert Kraft decided not to challenge even though he said he disagreed with the punishment.

Goodell made the decision announced today after the Patriots’ record-setting quarterback, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the league, had his hearing on June 23 at the NFL’s offices in New York. Goodell in May had rejected a request by the players’ union that he remove himself from hearing the appeal in favor of an independent arbitrator.

Brady, who stands to lose approximately $1.75 million in salary during his ban, can still file a lawsuit challenging the ruling.

Goodell’s decision comes a day before veteran players report for the start of Patriots’ training camp. The NFL said in a statement that Goodell emphasized new information disclosed by Brady in making his ruling, specifically mentioning that Brady had his personal cell phone destroyed just before he met with independent investigators. The NFL didn’t become aware of that until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady. 

Season Opener

The Patriots open the regular season with a Thursday night game against the Steelers on Sept. 10 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The ban would also force Brady to sit out contests against the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys, leaving backup Jimmy Garoppolo – a second-round draft pick in 2014 – as the starter. 

Brady is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen and is one of the most high-profile players in the most popular U.S. sport. The suspension would make him the first starting quarterback from a reigning Super Bowl-winning team to miss the ensuing season-opening game since 2006, when Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers had an emergency appendectomy.

A three-month investigation headed by New York attorney Ted Wells concluded it was “more probable than not” that Jim McNally, an officials’ locker room attendant for New England, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, released air from game balls after they were examined by officials before a 45-7 rout over the Indianapolis Colts that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Based on interviews and evidence, the report said it was unlikely that the two staffers “would personally and unilaterally engage in such conduct in the absence of Brady’s awareness and consent.”

Brady, who in February was selected the Super Bowl MVP for a third time after throwing four touchdown passes in a 28-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks, has maintained throughout that he doesn’t have an explanation for the under-inflated footballs. Balls inflated less that the required NFL limit may be easier for a quarterback to throw, receivers to catch and running backs to hold on to, particularly in wet or cold conditions. Brady has said he prefers game balls that are inflated to the lowest end of the permissible range, saying it’s the “perfect grip for the football.”

Brady last month was accompanied by his lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, to lead his defense at the hearing with Goodell and the NFL. Brady was at the NFL’s offices for 10 hours. Kraft, on a trip to Israel at the time, sent a sworn affidavit in support of Brady, who has led the team to four Super Bowl victories.

Brady’s Arguments

In his appeal, Brady’s lawyers disputed the findings of an independent firm that was hired by the NFL to provide scientific analysis of the air pressure in the AFC championship game footballs supplied by the Patriots. Brady’s defense team also argued there was no evidence in the Wells report that proved Brady violated NFL rules and that the penalty imposed was stricter than the punishment for similar violations.

The NFL said Brady, the day before meeting with Wells, directed that the cell phone he used for the prior four months be destroyed.

“He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone,” the NFL said in its appeal decision. “?During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device.”

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