The New England Patriots “Deflategate” affair had seemingly fallen by the wayside in recent weeks, with the 2015 National Football League regular season nearing its halfway point, and a federal judge’s decision overturning the league’s four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shortly before the season began.
But, like a zombie, Deflategate is back from the grave this week, thanks to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who not only filed a new legal brief making the NFL’s case to appeal the earlier federal ruling, but followed up the filing with an interview on ESPN in which he made a stunning claim.
The basis of the NFL’s case against Brady, Goodall now claims, is his own unlimited power to impose discipline for rules that have not even been written.
Federal Judge Richard Berman, who vacated the Brady suspension on September 4, made a big mistake when he failed to recognize Goodell’s boundless powers, the commissioner and the NFL’s court filing said.
“We filed this litigation initially to reinforce the fact we had this right in our collective bargaining agreement. We had a decision from Judge Berman. We disagree with it,” Goodell told ESPN hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, co-hosts of the Mike & Mike Show.
When asked by the two Mikes how the NFL could suspend Brady for an equipment violation when the NFL rule book clearly states that equipment violations are punishable by fines, Goodell said that the rule allowing him to suspend Brady was not “articulated” — but he still somehow had the power to enforce it.
“I disagree with it just from the standpoint of we can’t articulate every violation that can happen with all the rules we have in the NFL,” the 56-year-old Goodell said.
“These are NFL rules, these are not matters of law or in the legal system,” he told the two Mikes. “That is a judgement that the commissioner makes, and/or his staff when you have those violations. That is certainly what was negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement and articulated very clearly with the commissioners authority.”
Brady suspended 4 gms when no such penalty spelled out in rules. Why? @nflcommish says NFL can’t “articulate” response to every violation.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) October 27, 2015
Goodell also claimed that the NFL’s appeal “has nothing to do with any individual player or anyone else.”
And yet, in the appeal, the NFL repeats its widely discredited claim that “significant evidence linked [Brady] to the deflation scheme.”
The so-called Deflategate affair stemmed from last season’s January 18 AFC Championship game in which the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 45-7. The NFL claimed that in the first half of that game, the Patriots used footballs that had been deflated slightly lower than the league-mandated minimum for football air pressure.
Later, in denying Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension, Goodell claimed that the quarterback was part of a “scheme” to deflate the footballs illegally, a claim that was not made by the NFL’s own report on Deflategate, in which investigator Ted Wells said only that Brady was “more probably than not…generally aware” that Patriots employees illegally deflated footballs.
At court hearings in front of Judge Berman over the summer, NFL lawyers admitted that they had no direct evidence linking Brady to a ball-deflation scheme in the AFC title game.
The NFL, in its Monday brief filed before the United States Appeals Court for the Second Circuit, also claims that Berman “vastly exceeded the narrow bounds of judicial review.”
The NFL Players Association, which has represented Brady through the Deflategate legal process, now has until December 7 to file a response to the NFL’s brief — after which the NFL may file one more brief by December 21.
A three-judge panel will rule on the Deflategate case, and if two of the three agree with the Goodell arguments, the New England Patriots could be without quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season.
[Photos by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images; Mike Coppola/Getty Images]