Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

Tom Brady, NFLPA Win 'Deflategate' Appeal

In what seems to be a regular occurrence for the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, a federal district court has overturned league discipline, vacating Tom Brady's four-game suspension for allegedly tampering with the air pressure in a few footballs.

By our count, Goodell is now 0-4 on major punishment cases, but that hasn't deterred him from appealing his latest defeat. Does he have a shot at reversing this latest decision?

Airing It All Out

From the beginning, "Deflategate" has been a farce. A victimless "crime" that obviously happened, but defied any attempt at legal proof. But the question was never really "Did Tom Brady (or Patriots staff) alter footballs." It was more "Who will embarrass themselves the most over this non-scandal?"

The Pats tied themselves in knots trying to deny anything illegal happened. Sportswriters took hot air balloons to mount their high horses and chastise Brady for cheating. And Goodell's investigation, "trial," and punishment strictly adhered to the Don't Do This playbook.

Unlike previous cases of Goodell overreach, there was no real harm involved, so gleefully laughing at the proceedings was allowed and often unavoidable. But it ended just like the Saints bounty scandal, the Adrian Peterson child abuse suspension, and the Ray Rice affair -- with the Commissioner's punishment being overturned on appeal.

Letting the Air out of the Suspension

Judge Richard Berman of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued his ruling this morning, criticizing the NFL's policy of having Commissioner Goodell review Commissioner Goodell's decisions:

The Court is fully aware of the deference afforded to arbitral decisions, but, nevertheless, concludes that the Award should be vacated. The Award is premised upon several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.

While the judge's ruling doesn't go to the heart of Goodell's authority to punish players, it will have players disciplined in the future eager to test the limits of that power.

Goodell (of course, because why not extend your latest failure as long as possible) has already announced his intention to appeal the ruling. Which means we get to enjoy a meaningless pseudo-scandal for a few more months, if not years. Thanks, Rog.

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