Robert Kraft decided not to challenge the Patriots’ team punishments from Deflategate, but Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association are not going down quietly.
Brady and the NFLPA have appealed his four-game suspension, with the union taking the additional step of publicly challenging commissioner Roger Goodell to recuse himself as the hearing officer. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement gives Goodell full authority to oversee appeals of player discipline, but the NFLPA is trying to rally public sentiment and force Goodell to pass off the responsibility to a neutral arbitrator.
Brady has been quiet since the punishment was handed down nearly two weeks ago, allowing his representatives to fight for him — the NFLPA and his agent, Don Yee.
Goodell, making his first public comments on the matter Wednesday, intimated that he wants Brady to speak up for himself during his appeal, and that Brady could help himself by revealing any information that he withheld during Ted Wells’s investigation.
Part of Brady’s four-game suspension is based on his supposed lack of cooperation with Wells, declining requests to view certain e-mails and text messages.
“I look forward to hearing directly from Tom,” Goodell said. “If there’s new information that can be helpful to us in getting this right, I want to hear directly from Tom on that.”
When exactly Goodell will hear from Brady is still in question (assuming Goodell hears the appeal and doesn’t hand it off to an outside party).
The CBA states that all appeals are to be heard within 10 days of filing, and with the NFLPA filing on May 14, Brady theoretically should have his hearing by Monday at the latest.
But the CBA also allows the NFL and the union to delay or extend any dates based on mutual agreement, and as of Thursday afternoon, a date had not been set for the appeal, a league spokesman confirmed.
Whenever the appeal is heard — most likely at the league offices in midtown Manhattan — Brady and Goodell will hardly be the only people in the room (the CBA allows for telephone hearings, as well).
Brady is allowed to be joined by representation, which will include NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, as well as key NFLPA members and possibly Yee. On the NFL’s side will be Goodell, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent (who handed out the Brady discipline), and several league attorneys, headed by executive VP Adolpho Birch.
Complicating matters is the NFLPA stating that it plans to call Goodell and Vincent as witnesses to the case — a strategy that could help the union prove in court that Goodell and the NFL appeals process is inherently biased.
The appeal will have a discovery process, in which the sides must exchange copies of any exhibits they intend to use in the process no later than three calendar days prior to the hearing. Brady’s cellphone, which he protected so tightly in Wells’s investigation, would be subject to the discovery process if he intends to use its contents to prove his innocence.
The time frame of the appeal and Goodell’s decision is a bit hard to predict, but even if Brady takes this to court, he should have everything adjudicated before the start of the regular season.
The CBA states that the hearing officer will render his decision “as soon as practicable following the conclusion of the hearing,” and that his decision “will constitute full, final, and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding.”
Goodell can affirm, reduce, or vacate Brady’s punishment but cannot increase it.
When Adrian Peterson appealed his suspension, the hearing was held Dec. 2-4, appeals officer Harold Henderson rendered his decision on Dec. 12, the NFLPA filed its lawsuit on Dec. 15 and US federal judge David Doty vacated Peterson’s suspension on Feb. 26.
Ray Rice’s situation was much more complicated, as it was the first time Goodell and the NFL allowed a truly neutral arbitrator to hear an appeal (former US District Judge Barbara Jones). In that case, testimony was given Nov. 5-6, final briefs were filed on Nov. 13, and Jones stated her decision to overturn Rice’s suspension on Nov. 28.
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