Deflategate: NFL Scandal Makes it to Federal Court
“Deflategate” seems to have become the NFL scandal that won’t go away. In fact, deflategate has made it all the way to federal court. Patriots superstar quarterback Tom Brady appeared in court on Wednesday to appeal the four-game suspension the NFL deemed appropriate for his role in the scandal; now a judge is involved in the legal scuffle that has mainly been conducted behind closed doors.
Brady was suspended for four games, which was deemed an appropriate punishment for his role in the controversy involving the deflated balls used by the Patriots in the January 18 playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. The suspension was appealed to Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, who declined to amend it. After a lot of back-and-forth the case has made it to federal court in New York–the NFL is asking the court to uphold the suspension sentence, and the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) is working with Brady to ask that the suspension is vacated. The case is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who publicly questioned both sides yesterday.
Berman appeared to doubt the NFL’s evidence that Brady was involved with the under-inflated balls–pointing out that it lacked a “smoking gun” tying the quarterback to the scandal. During Berman’s questioning to that effect, the NFL representatives did admit that they were missing direct evidence tying Brady to the deflated balls, but instead relied on circumstantial evidence mostly in the form of rather vague text messages. Berman also pointed out that the balls in question didn’t appear to give Brady any competitive advantage, given that he played better with the untouched balls in the later half of the game.
However, Berman did have some concerns about the way that Brady handled the investigation into his actions–particularly the fact that he destroyed his phone. While Brady’s team claimed that he did so in order to protect his privacy, the timing seemed a bit suspect. Brady’s lawyer acknowledged that he could have dealt with privacy concerns in a more prudent way given the circumstances. After Berman questioned both sides, there was a long, private discussion; it’s unclear how much progress was made.
At the end of the day, it does seem like timeliness will be a strong motivation for whatever deal ends up being made between Brady, the NFLPA, and the NFL. There is definitely some pressure to finish this up soon, given that regular season play, and Brady’s suspension, will begin in September. In fact, Berman himself is encouraging them to settle this quickly–if no settlement is reached, both sides will have to appear again in court. As the regular season–and the publicity and profits that go with it loom–it’s in everyone’s best interests to reach a settlement quickly.