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Robert Kraft defends Tom Brady, attacks NFL’s suspension

Says he regrets not appealing Deflategate penalties

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots owner Robert Kraft returned to a defiant tone Wednesday, blasting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for upholding a four-game suspension of Tom Brady and pledging his support for his beleaguered quarterback in a surprise news conference at Gillette Stadium one day before the Patriots officially open training camp.

“I was wrong to put my faith in the league,” said Kraft, who apologized to fans and said he regrets not appealing the team’s penalties levied by Goodell earlier this year.

Shortly before Kraft’s statement, Brady posted his strongest denial yet to the NFL’s finding that he had played with under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game in January. “I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either,’’ Brady wrote on his Facebook page.


The NFL Players Association also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Brady in Minnesota in an effort to overturn his four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate. Brady’s appeal was denied Tuesday by the NFL.

Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the NFL Players Association, told the Associated Press that the NFL broke procedural rules in suspending Brady.

‘‘We don’t believe this discipline can ever be sustained,” Kessler wrote.

The Patriots and Brady have been under scrutiny since Jan. 18, the night they defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Before that game, the Colts told NFL officials they suspected the Patriots of tampering with footballs. The league confiscated the Patriots’ footballs after the game.

A multimillion-dollar investigation by NFL-selected attorney Ted Wells concluded that it was “more probable than not” that Patriots assistant equipment manager John Jastremski and game-day attendant Jim McNally deliberately let air out of footballs after they had been inspected by game officials, and that Brady was “generally aware” of the wrongdoing.

Wednesday’s extraordinary developments, involving the NFL’s most powerful owner and one of its star players, marked a reversal for Kraft. At the NFL owners’ meeting in May, he reluctantly decided to accept the team’s penalties of a first-round draft pick in 2016, a fourth-round pick in 2017, and a $1 million fine.


“Though I might disagree with what the commissioner has decided, I do have respect for him . . . that’s he’s doing the best in the best of the 32 [NFL teams],’’ Kraft said then. “At no time should the agenda of one team outweigh the collective 32.”

Kraft appeared to be taking a hit for the team by accepting the penalties, which he believed would ultimately lead to a lighter sentence for Brady. However, in a news conference after Kraft’s announcement, Goodell, asked whether the owner’s decision to accept the penalties would in any way affect his ruling on Brady, simply answered no.

Kraft’s anger Wednesday seemed to stem from his belief he had been duped by Goodell.

“I first and foremost need to apologize to our fans, because I truly believed what I did in May, given the actual evidence of the situation and the league’s history on discipline matters, would make it much easier for the league to exonerate Tom Brady,’’ Kraft said. “Unfortunately, I was wrong.’’

“Tom Brady is a person of great integrity, and is a great ambassador of the game, both on and off the field,’’ Kraft said. “Yet for reasons that I cannot comprehend, there are those in the league office who are more determined to prove that they were right rather than admit any culpability of their own or take responsibility for the initiation of a process and ensuing investigation that was flawed.


“I have come to the conclusion that this was never about doing what was fair and just. Back in May, I had to make a difficult decision that I now regret. I tried to do what I thought was right; I chose not to take legal action. I wanted to return the focus to football.’’

Kraft, a successful businessman, noted that he has been involved in negotiating deals throughout his career. “I know there are times when you have to give up important points on principle to achieve a greater good. I acted in good faith and was optimistic that by taking the actions I took, the league would have what they wanted,’’ Kraft said.

Brady wrote that he is disappointed by Goodell’s decision. “The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused.”

The Patriots have indefinitely suspended Jastremski and McNally.

In his 20-page decision announced Tuesday, Goodell revealed that Brady destroyed his cellphone on or around the day he met with Wells and investigators. Brady contends that his phone had broken, and he got a new phone after his attorneys made it clear to the league that Brady’s phone “would not be subjected to investigation under any circumstances.”

Brady noted that as a member of the players’ association he was under no obligation to hand over his phone to investigators. He also contends he was never made aware that failure to do so would result in any discipline.


Goodell cited Brady’s refusal as a lack of cooperation.

“I have never written, texted, [or] e-mailed to anybody at any time, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship Game in January,” Brady wrote. “To suggest I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong.”

Brady’s attorneys offered Goodell a spreadsheet containing the phone numbers of every person Brady had contacted with his old phone, offering him the opportunity to try to acquire text messages between Brady and any individuals Goodell felt were relevant, but Goodell refused.

Kraft supported that claim, and stressed that investigators were given access to the phones of all team employees not in the players’ union, including coach Bill Belichick.

On Wednesday, Kraft left the podium without taking questions, ceding to Belichick. But the coach made it clear that he was not going to talk about Deflategate, and he never wavered.

“I think Robert took care of the other situation,’’ Belichick said. “Tom already had a statement. So nothing really to talk about there. I won’t really be dealing with that at all, just trying to get the team ready and prepare for the regular season as we always do and we did all spring. There’s no change for us on the football team.”


Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.