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Appeals court: Quarterback Tom Brady must serve ‘Deflategate’ penalty

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady left federal court in Aug. 2015, in New York. A federal appeals court ruled today that New England Patriots Tom Brady must serve a four-game “Deflategate” suspension imposed by the NFL, overturning a lower judge and siding with the league in a battle with the players union.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a ball tossed to him during warmups in Jan. 2015 before the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass.

NEW YORK » New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must serve a four-game “Deflategate” suspension imposed by the NFL, a federal appeals court ruled today, overturning a lower judge and siding with the league in a battle with the players union.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled 2-to-1 that Commissioner Roger Goodell did not deprive Brady of “fundamental fairness” with his procedural rulings. The split decision may end the legal debate over the scandal that led to months of football fans arguing over air pressure and the reputation of one of the league’s top teams.

It also fuels a fresh round of debate over what role, if any, the quarterback and top NFL star played in using underinflated footballs at the AFC championship game in January 2015. The Patriots won the contest over the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, and then won the Super Bowl.

The ruling can be appealed to the full 2nd Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it would likely be a steep and time-consuming climb even if the courts took the unusual step to consider it.

In a majority opinion written by Judge Barrington D. Parker, the 2nd Circuit said its review of labor arbitration awards “is narrowly circumscribed and highly deferential — indeed, among the most deferential in the law.”

“Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all. Nor is it our role to second-guess the arbitrator’s procedural rulings,” the opinion said. “Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act.”

The 2nd Circuit said the contract between players and the NFL gave the commissioner authority that was “especially broad.”

“Even if an arbitrator makes mistakes of fact or law, we may not disturb an award so long as he acted within the bounds of his bargained-for authority,” the court said.

In a dissent, Chief Judge Robert Katzmann said Goodell failed to even consider a “highly relevant” alternative penalty.

“I am troubled by the Commissioner’s decision to uphold the unprecedented four-game suspension,” Katzmann said. “It is ironic that a process designed to ensure fairness to all players has been used unfairly against one player.”

The NFL Players Association said in a statement it was disappointed.

“We fought Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement,” the statement said. “Our union will carefully review the decision, consider all of our options and continue to fight for players’ rights and for the integrity of the game.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the court ruled Goodell acted properly in cases involving the integrity of the game.

“That authority has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years,” McCarthy said.

Soon after the ruling, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump opened a campaign rally in Rhode Island by sticking up for Brady, a longtime friend and golfing buddy.

“First of all let’s start by saying leave Tom Brady alone. Leave him alone. Leave him alone he’s a great guy,” Trump said. “It’s enough. It’s enough.”

The appeals ruling follows a September decision by Manhattan Judge Richard Berman that went against the league, letting Brady skip the suspension last season. Goodell insisted the suspension was deserved.

The appeals court settled the issue three days before the start of the NFL draft and well before the start of the 2016 season, avoiding the tension built last year when Brady didn’t learn until a week before the season that he would be allowed to start in the Patriots’ opener.

The Patriots open the 2016 season on Sept. 11 at Arizona, followed by games at home against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Brady’s backup at quarterback is Jimmy Garoppolo, who appeared in 11 games over his first two seasons but hasn’t made a start.

At oral arguments in March, appeals judges seemed skeptical of arguments on Brady’s behalf by the NFL Players Association.

Circuit Judge Denny Chin said evidence of ball tampering was “compelling, if not overwhelming” and there was evidence that Brady “knew about it, consented to it, encouraged it.”

The league argued that it was fair for Goodell to severely penalize Brady after he concluded the prize quarterback tarnished the game by impeding the NFL’s investigation by destroying a cellphone containing nearly 10,000 messages.

Parker said the cellphone destruction raised the stakes “from air in a football to compromising the integrity of a proceeding that the commissioner had convened.”

“So why couldn’t the commissioner suspend Mr. Brady for that conduct alone?” he asked. Parker added: “With all due respect, Mr. Brady’s explanation of that made no sense whatsoever.”

Parker also was critical of the NFL at the arguments, saying Brady’s lengthy suspension seemed at “first blush a draconian penalty.”

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  • This entire episode has nothing to do with whether Brady did or did not deflate–rather it speaks to the integrity of the CBA (collective bargain agreement). In short, ALL parties have previously agreed to the feature that the commissioner having the power to discipline players–that was always agreed upon. Furthermore, federal courts have always been reluctant to tamper and/or change CBAs, This is over–period. Brady would have to gain certiorari from the US Supreme Court for it to be reviewed, and there is no compelling public interest or challegened area of law in at jeopardy. Go home Brady and take your punishment….

  • New England Cheaters. That whole NE organization are cheats. Brady’s legacy will be that he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar once too many.

  • I am glad that I have lost interest in football. Football has degenerated into a pathetic relationship between rich owners and rich players. I don’t believe Brady did anything wrong and have lost all confidence in the fairness of football. The hell with it. Soccer is far better as it only takes 2 hours to complete a 90 minute game while football takes 3 hours to complete a 60 minute game. I doubt you would ever find such a pathetic complaint in Soccer.

    • This is the third time the Patriots cheated. Unless you believe that the tapes handed over by Matt Walsh to the commissioner had nothing so Goodell destroyed them without letting anyone see them.

      He covered up for the Patriots until he couldn’t. Now he had to make an example of them because they didn’t stop cheating after he covered up for their cheating in the super bowl.

      And when you cheat, you are rarely caught the first time………

        • Many folks are prejudiced against Brady/NE and will disregard the facts, including the science of the Ideal Gas Law. This case, once again demonstrates the injustice that results when we let lawyers put the laws of man above the physical laws of nature. This is the what brother Boola points out. The truth doesn’t matter, only the collective bargaining agreement’s authority structure does.

          Why hasn’t the NFL released the data gathered on pregame vs halftime football pressure readings taken last season? Probable because nature refuses to conform to the commissioner’s narrative. So much for integrity of the game.

        • Danno. this has nothing to do with science. The NFLPA gave Goodell that authority through collective bargaining. The commissioner isn’t a jury that goes beyond a reasonable doubt. Brady also destroyed his phone, raising suspicion.

          The commissioner has the right to suspend a player based on his discretion for conduct that might be detrimental to the NFL.

          Do you honestly believe nothing happened and Brady knew nothing? And that the ball handler was called deflator because he was losing weight? Because if you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

        • Goodell destroyed the tapes claiming it was nothing.

          And regardless of what else Walsh did, this is just a diversion from the fact that deflategate is the third time the patriots are associated with cheating. In a tight game, that little edge from cheating can make a big difference.

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