The National Football League and commissioner Roger Goodell finally got what they wanted as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will serve a four-game suspension to begin the 2016 NFL season as a result of underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in January 2015. This marks the end of a battle between Brady and the NFL that has gone on for nearly 18 months as the league was seeking to drop the hammer on him. And although that the NFL finally got what they were seeking, did they really win?
Goodell like his predecessors who have served as commissioner of the National Football League have been judge, jury, and executioner on league matters. But unlike Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle, Goodell has had to deal with an abundance on player misconduct while being very inconsistent in the process.
Upon taking over in 2006, Goodell found himself looking into player misconduct with people such as cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones which resulted in him being suspended for the entire 2007 National Football League season. Goodell would continue to drop the hammer on players for misconduct, but he developed a reputation for not being consistent which including him suspending quarterback Michael Vick after he served a two-year prison sentence for his role in a dog fighting ring, while also reducing the suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from six games to four following sexual assault allegations against him.
But Goodell’s power would be tested in 2012 when he came down hard on the New Orleans Saints organization for their system of putting out bounties on opposing players. Goodell would suspend Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and assistant coach Joe Vitt while fining the organization $500k and stripping them of multiple draft picks. Goodell then turned his attention to the Saints roster where he would suspend linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 National Football League season, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove for eight games, defensive end Will Smith for four games, and linebacker Scott Fujita for three games. However unlike the Saints administration, the players would ban together and fight Goodell’s ruling.
With the support of the National Football League’s Player’s Association, the Saints players took their case to federal court where they were able to prove that Goodell had suspended them without evidence and subsequently their suspensions were overturned which was huge blow to the commissioner’s authority.
And in the case of Brady and the Patriots, Goodell was attempting to show that he still had the ultimate authority in the National Football League which could wind up hurting him in the end.
When the National Football League’s investigation of Brady and the Patriots began in the spring of 2015, the league hired “independent” investigator Ted Wells to conduct things. But Wells was already on the NFL’s payroll and all that he could conclude was that Brady “probably knew” that the footballs were underinflated. Brady did not fully cooperate with the investigation, but Wells never made it clear to him that he would be subject to discipline by the league if he didn’t.
Goodell would suspend Brady for the first four games of the 2015 National Football League season, and like the Saints players before him, he would appeal. However Goodell would invoke a clause in the collective bargaining agreement which allowed him to be the “independent” arbitrator on Brady’s appeal which would become a glorified witch hunt. Brady’s suspension was upheld which paved the way for him to take the NFL to federal court.
Last summer, Brady’s case would be heard by Judge Richard Berman in the United States District Court who ruled in his favor and overturned Goodell’s ruling. The National Football League and Goodell were in trouble from the first day of the proceedings when Berman asked them for their evidence against Brady to which they were unable to provide any.
But instead of taking the loss, Goodell decided to appeal Berman’s ruling to the U.S. Appeals Court where he and the deep pocket owners of the National Football League would find a three-judge panel ruled in his favor. Brady would appeal, but it would be denied which was to Goodell’s liking. There was the possibility of Brady taking this matter to the Supreme Court, but he decided against that option and will now serve his four-game suspension.
Goodell won out as he had the backing of some of the big boys such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti who wanted to see him make an example out of Brady and the Patriots. Goodell won out due to the fact that he exercised a clause which allowed him to be the arbitrator on Brady’s case, and it is something that he may never be able to use again.
When the current collective bargaining agreement was ratified between the players and owners, it was agreed upon that Goodell could act as an independent arbitrator on rulings. But what has hurt Goodell and the National Football League on their handling of Brady’s case is that the quarterback was suspended for something that nobody really cares about as playing with an underinflated football is the equivalent of driving 56 miles per hour in a 55 zone. Brady’s suspension of four games is the equivalent of a player that violated the NFL’s supplement policy, while players who have been arrested have received lesser penalties from the league which proves that Goodell cannot be impartial.
Goodell will claim that Brady failed to comply with the investigation while he is out to “protect the shield”. But the National Football League shield was tarnished a long time ago as they’ve failed to take care of their retired players that made the game the phenomenon that it is today as some of them have suffered debilitating injuries, while also being extremely reactionary with cases such as that of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games due to domestic violence. But when TMZ leaked a video of the full incident in which Rice was seen punching his wife (then fiancee) Janay Palmer, he would be suspended indefinitely by the NFL. This was done in spite of the fact that Rice gave Goodell and Ravens team officials including Bisciotti, a full testimony of his involvement well before the video was leaked. But like a true politician, all Goodell did was deny, deny, deny.
Had the Brady case never been made public, this would not be a topic right now, and I would be writing about something else. But as the media got a hold of it and proceeded to act in the fashion of the glorified prostitutes that they are, Goodell figured that he would have to do something in order to protect his precious shield. However Goodell never made it public knowledge that the league conducted another investigation of how other teams around the National Football League prepare footballs prior to games during last season which was disclosed. And that alone makes you wonder if other NFL teams doctor the football as well, however no punishment is or will be coming down the pike for them.
Make no mistake about it that Goodell is in a bind as he must do what the owners of the 32 National Football League franchises want him to do which is not always going to come off well in the court of pubic opinion. But in this case it is 31 teams as Patriots owner Robert Kraft has now been made the black sheep of the family as the other team owners convinced him to not fight Goodell’s ruling which included his team being fined $1 million and losing multiple draft picks. Kraft is not without fault as his organization was caught up in the “Spygate” scandal of 2007 that saw them found guilty of taping opposing teams signals during games, but Brady appears to be guilty by association.
In the case of Brady it is guilty until Goodell says otherwise as the quarterback was not given a due process. And to those out there that will claim that Goodell is the ultimate authority figure of the National Football League, what would you do if your employer reprimanded you for something that either he/she didn’t have proof that you did while simply throwing their weight around?
Goodell has shown that he cannot be impartial as last season saw Brady taking more hits that in year’s past would have warranted penalty flags during the game, and fines to those defenders. But if Brady is supposed to be protected in the same fashion that other quarterbacks are, why did it stop now being that he fought the bully that Goodell is?
Once upon a time Ted DiBiase coined the phrase that “everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Man” as money talks louder than anything else. And as the Jones’ and Bischotti’s of the world are billionaires, their money speaks louder and they have the ability to bribe any judge and twist the legal system anyway that they see fit. Brady got caught up in that wash which led to Goodell’s victory. However when it’s time for the owners and players to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement in a few years, this ruling will be a major sticking point. So Goodell wanted to flex his muscles, but will it be worth it if this ultimately cost him some of the power that he was sorely seeking to keep as the players now have overwhelming evidence that he cannot be impartial?
And if the Patriots go on to win Super Bowl 51, it will be must-see television if Goodell has to hand Brady and company the Vince Lombardi Trophy after he has fought them vigorously for the past 18 months.