LOS ANGELES, April 26, 2016 — On the eve of the 2016 NFL draft, the ghost of the Deflategate scandal returned. On May 11, 2015, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for illegally deflating footballs before the 2014 season’s AFC title game.
NFL vice president Troy Vincent handed down the suspension. Bridget Moynihan’s ex-boyfriend was supposed to miss the first four games of the 2015 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell heard Brady’s appeal personally, upholding the suspension. Rather than accept the suspension, Brady appealed to the federal court system.
Then Gisele Bundchen’s husband received his luckiest break since the Tuck Rule in 2001. An activist judge who socialized with Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the Hamptons vacated the suspension.
The NFL appealed the ruling, and the Court of Appeals reinstated the suspension. While Brady can still appeal further to the entire Court of Appeals and even the Supreme Court, he most likely has been defeated. The ruling was a total vindication of Commissioner Goodell.
Outside of those who worship the Patriots, the narrow issue was crystal clear. Any judge who followed the law as it is written had to side with Goodell.
The issue before the appeals court had zero to do with the facts of Deflategate. Whether Tom Brady cheated was totally irrelevant. Whether Tom Brady compromised the integrity of the National Football League did not matter.
Tom Brady’s innocence or guilt was totally and completely immaterial to the Appeals Court ruling, as it should have been.
Whether Goodell’s penalty dished out to Brady was too draconian, too lenient or perfectly fair deserved no bearing on this case.
The only issue that mattered was whether Goodell had the sole right to issue the suspension to begin with. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement that the owners and players signed said Goodell did and does.
Arbitrators in general have broad powers. They are not required to even offer explanations as to why they render their decisions. The word arbitrary means exactly that. In theory, arbitrators are supposed to make their decisions on applicable laws and facts. Barring obvious malfeasance, arbitrators are given very broad latitude in making their rulings.
Goodell was given even more power than the traditional arbitrator. Players complain that the suspension process renders Goodell judge, jury and executioner. They are right. They would know. They chose to give Goodell that power.
Goodell can suspend anybody in the NFL he wants whenever he wants. Those who have a problem with this have two options. The owners can fire him. The players can try reducing or removing his powers in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Unless that day comes, American courts have to accept the reality as it is, not as others wish it to be.
In the NFL, Goodell is the law.
He suspended Brady because he can.