Could Tom Brady’s suspension be overturned completely?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is going to appeal the suspension that he is facing for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal. Most people believe his four-game ban will be reduced to two or three games, but is there a chance that Brady winds up missing no time at all?
While (allegedly) deflating a football and (allegedly) trying to injure opponents are two entirely different concepts, many comparisons have been drawn between Deflategate and the Bountygate scandal that rocked the New Orleans Saints organization a few years ago. A look back at the details surrounding the appeals process with Bountygate should give Brady and the Patriots hope.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hired his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, to handle player appeals of Bountygate suspensions. The end result? Tagliabue overturned “all discipline” imposed on Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Tagliabue absolved Fujita but agreed with Goodell’s findings that Vilma, Smith and Hargrove “engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.” However, the former commissioner felt that the actions of the aforementioned players warranted only fines.
Read this excerpt from an Associated Press report about the suspensions being overturned:
The former commissioner found Goodell’s actions historically disproportionate to past punishment of players for similar behavior, which had generally been reserved to fines, not suspensions. He also stated that it was very difficult to determine whether the pledges players made were genuine, or simply motivational ploys, particularly because Saints defenders never demonstrated a pattern of dirty play on the field.
“The relationship of the discipline for the off-field ‘talk’ and actual on-field conduct must be carefully calibrated and reasonably apportioned. This is a standard grounded in common sense and fairness,” Tagliabue wrote in his 22-page opinion. “If one were to punish certain off-field talk in locker rooms, meeting rooms, hotel rooms or elsewhere without applying a rigorous standard that separated real threats or ‘bounties’ from rhetoric and exaggeration, it would open a field of inquiry that would lead nowhere.”
Brady and the Patriots are, in all likelihood, being punished more for their lack of complete cooperation than they are for allegedly under-inflating footballs by less than two PSI. That became even more evident with the comments Ted Wells made on Thursday about the NFL’s reaction to an email that was sent to league officials before the AFC Championship Game.
In the case with the Saints players, Tagliabue looked at past punishments for similar behaviors. Wouldn’t a similar behavior in the Brady case be the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers heating up footballs during games and only being told to stop?
Or, perhaps you would like to compare the under-inflation of footballs to the San Diego Chargers being accused of using “sticky” towels to improve their grip during a game in 2012. It was eventually determined that they did not violate the rules, but the team was fined $20,000 for attempting to conceal the towels when NFL officials ask that they be turned over. Sound familiar?
By the way, the $20,000 fine was later overturned on appeal.
Yes, there are some text messages that appear to show there was something fishy going on with game balls at the request of Brady. The four-time Super Bowl champion may, indeed, be guilty, but it’s obvious Goodell was hammering Brady and the Patriots for their lack of cooperation. He is also sending a message to the rest of the league that he will not play favorites. And let’s not forget how desperate Goodell is to make up for botching the handling of the infamous Ray Rice elevator video.
Before he became NFL commissioner, Goodell was Tagliabue’s right-hand man. That didn’t stop Tagliabue from determining that Goodell was wrong to suspend several players for Bountygate. What if an arbitrator — whether truly independent or not — doesn’t take Goodell’s personal agenda into account? That’s undoubtedly what Brady and the Patriots will be hoping for.