The NFL’s decision to uphold the four-game suspension of Tom Brady for his alleged role in deflating footballs at the AFC Championship Game last January simply can’t be defended by any reasonable person when you consider the context. And that context is this—every piece of available evidence says the league never considered this a serious infraction.
Let’s go back to last November 30. The Patriots were visiting the Green Bay Packers on a late Sunday afternoon, in what was the marquee game of the regular season. The issue of air in the footballs came up, but it wasn’t with regards to Brady.
CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms recalled a pregame conversation with Aaron Rodgers, who prefers his footballs to be inflated on the high end. Here’s what they recall Rogers telling them
“I like to push the limits of how much air we can put in the football, even go over what they allow you to do (emphasis added).” So said the soon-to-be league MVP, who has a deserved Golden Boy image.
There was no media outcry. NFC rivals didn’t demand an investigation. Thus, making it all very clear that this is simply how business is done.
Furthermore, the NFL’s own rulebook provides concrete evidence as to how seriously they took this issue. The fine for playing with footballs outside the appropriate PSI range is $25,000.
Now there are loopholes, with words like “minimum fine”, essentially designed to say the commissioner can do whatever he wants. But the fact $25K is the recommended figure tells how serious the league considered this infraction—the equivalent of overstaying your time at a parking meter.
This is the context that Roger Goodell stepped into when he made his decision and it’s why the initial decision back in May to suspend Brady for four games was indefensible and why this past week’s decision to uphold that suspension is worse.
You will note that I have not gone into the issue of what Brady knows and what he doesn’t. That’s not because I think he’s guilty. It’s because I really don’t care. The evidence above is ironclad proof that the NFL and all of the players, fans and media—including Patriot-haters—didn’t care either.
If Brady fails to get an injunction in federal court and this suspension holds, the reality is now that the 2015 Super Bowl champion—presuming it’s not the Patriots—is going to deserve an asterisk. Even if New England still wins the AFC East or at least makes the playoffs—and I think they’ll do both—it’s hard to see their playoff positioning not being affected.
If that’s how this plays out, a reasonable observer has to conclude that Goodell and the Patriot-haters in ownership essentially rigged the game in ways far more dramatic than playing with a modestly deflated football, an offense that no one cared about.
It’s time for the Patriot-haters, who ignored the self-professed infractions by Rodgers and ignored what the NFL’s own rulebook said about this infraction to admit the obvious—that playing by the rules isn’t what they’re concerned about. Getting the Patriots is. Mission accomplished. And this season’s Vince Lombardi Trophy will be tarnished because of it.