NEW YORK — In 1987, former US Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan was tried on charges of fraud and grand larceny. When the former Reagan cabinet member was acquitted by a Bronx County jury after an eight-month trial, Donovan famously asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?’’
On Tuesday at 9:09 a.m., Tom Brady went to a basement conference room at the NFL’s offices at 345 Park Ave. and testified under oath . . . in an attempt to get his reputation back.
It might take days, weeks, months, or even years for Brady to remove the tarnish from his golden résumé. Or he might never return to the lofty perch. He might instead be remembered as a champion . . . and a cheater.
It’s still hard to believe we are here.
In years to come, there will be considerable debate regarding strategic blunders, arrogance, coverups, lawyering up, and defiance on the part of the New England Patriots. What is in dispute in New York this week are Brady’s reputation and his legacy.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is going to determine whether Brady is more believable now than he was when he answered questions from league-hired investigator Ted Wells. The Commish will rule, and Brady will have to live with it unless he opts to carry a larger fight — challenging the punishing powers of the commissioner — into federal court on behalf of the NFL Players Association. That could take a very long time and subject Brady and the Patriots to disclosures no team — especially secretive New England — would want.
What continues to amaze me is the wacky fanboy notion in New England that Brady is somehow carrying the hammer here. I keep hearing that the commissioner is scared. That his position and his powers are threatened by Brady and his high-powered attorney, NFL-beatin’ Jeffrey Kessler.
No. We heard this same kind of nonsense when Bob Kraft was bloviating — demanding apologies, talking tough, and threatening to fight to the death in the name of truth, justice, and the Patriot Way. Then Kraft dissolved into a puddle like the Witch of the West when she gets hit with the bucket of water.
There was considerable buzz on the sidewalk in front of 345 Park Ave. Tuesday morning as folks walking to work wondered why there were a half-dozen TV trucks with satellite dishes parked at the intersection of 51st and Park on a humid morning. Dozens of additional cameras and reporters lined the sidewalk, and a couple of Patriot supporters carrying signs (“Deflect Gate,” “Foxboro Witch Trials”) dotted the pavement.
Kessler arrived before 9 a.m. and gave intrepid Globie Ben Volin the arm bar when Volin tried to approach. At 9:05, Brady dodged most of the cameras, hopping out of a car on Lexington Avenue and entering the building from the back.
Stephen Semple, a buildings facility manager at 345 Park, snapped photos of Brady and became a momentary celebrity when reporters realized he had quality cellphone shots of Brady’s arrival.
I doubt there was much talk about the “science” once the parties got into the basement conference room. PSI and AEI are not the issue now. The issue is that the NFL did not find Brady believable the last time he answered questions. No doubt they again asked Brady why he spoke to assistant equipment manager John Jastremski the morning after news of the scandal leaked. Brady had not called Jastremski for six months and had never invited Jastremski into the quarterbacks room at Gillette Stadium. So why did Brady suddenly have so much time for Jastremski? The NFL clearly believed a coverup was in play.
The presence of Wells at Tuesday’s session was interesting. Wells has been taking a beating since his 243-page report was released, and the veteran lawyer no doubt was eager to get into a room with Brady and hear some new information. (Prepare for some leaks. According to ESPN, there were 40 people in the room, and that means lots of loose lips.)
The only win for Brady now is to have his entire suspension lifted. This would take “cheating” off his résumé, but it would also make Goodell, Wells, and the league look ridiculous, and 31 other NFL owners no doubt would be calling “bag job,’’ and wondering why they spent $5 million for the investigation. Kraft might even want to reconsider his Big Fold at the owners’ meetings in San Francisco. This is why it’s unlikely that Brady is going to get his punishment reduced to zero.
If Goodell reduces Brady’s punishment to three, two, or one game, it’s still bad for Brady. If Brady accepts even one game, it’s still an admission of cheating. It’s a big loss.
This is why so many folks think Brady will take matters to federal court.
Doubt it. Brady has never been much of a union guy, and it’s unlikely he’d willingly subject his team to the uncertainty and disclosure of a federal court case. NFL players are the ones who agreed to give the commissioner infinite punishing powers in the collective bargaining agreement.
Going to court to overthrow the Commish — in the name of clearing Brady’s name — is folly. Kraft opted not to do it and Brady won’t do it.
Bottom line: The Patriots committed this small crime, folks. Jastremski and Jim McNally tampered with footballs and have been suspended indefinitely. The league believes that Brady was “at least generally aware of the actions” of the two employees. On Tuesday, in a hearing that lasted 11 hours, Brady testified under oath to change that belief.
And now we wait. We wait to see if Brady was able to change Goodell’s mind.
We wait to see if Tom Brady can somehow get his reputation back at 345 Park Ave., New York, N.Y.