A little deflation is exactly what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needs right now. It is the overinflated ego and sense of self-importance of the self-styled Guardian of the Game, one Mr. Goodell, that are damaging the integrity of the game and his legacy as commissioner of America’s golden goose of a game.
Goodell must decide whether it’s more important to prove his decisions right or to do what is right for the NFL. If he doesn’t choose the latter, then history will judge his reign far more harshly than any US District Court judge. He is sullying the very shield he claims to spit-shine with his arbitrary discipline.
What has Goodell gotten out of his Deflategate pursuit of a high-profile hide to mount at 345 Park Ave., except another black eye for the commissioner’s office and another deep scratch on the NFL Shield he holds so dear? Maybe he has won over a group of 8-12 owners, but at what cost?
He has alienated one of his closest owner allies in Robert Kraft. He has smudged the reputation of one of the league’s all-time greats in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He has once again undermined the public’s confidence in his own competence in disciplinary matters. He has put the collective bargaining agreement into peril. He has been admonished yet again by a neutral party assessing his fairness or lack thereof.
Goodell is in quicksand. The more he struggles and fights to assert his authority and execute his vision for the NFL, the deeper he sinks. He is taking the league’s credibility with him.
Goodell and the NFL were dealt a blowout loss by US District Judge Richard Berman on Thursday. Berman vacated Brady’s four-game suspension for being “generally aware” of Patriots employees allegedly tampering with footballs or overseeing a scheme to do so, or depending on what day of the week it is, any other specious reason the NFL provided for punishing Brady.
Berman decimated the NFL’s legal case and its article of faith, Article 46 of the CBA, the way the Patriots did the Indianapolis Colts defense in the game that spawned this imbroglio, January’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium.
He mocked the Wells Report and the league by repeatedly putting the word “independent” in quotes or in bold throughout his 40-page decision.
Wrote Berman: “The Award is premised on several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four-game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of the two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash, and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.”
A legalese-to-English translation of that: complete and utter lack of fairness.
Of course, Goodell and his “Game of Thrones”-style Small Council of NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash, outside counsel Gregg Levy, and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent announced that the league would appeal Berman’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, instead of letting Deflategate meet its timely demise.
“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision,” said Goodell in a statement. “We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game.
“The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.”
What Goodell and the league should do now is pursue a settlement with Brady before any more damage is done to the league.
Berman riddled the NFL’s case in public court hearings and saw right through Goodell’s dartboard discipline.
He joined a club that includes Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, who overturned the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” case; former US District Judge Barbara Jones, who vacated the indefinite suspension of Ray Rice and found it to be “an abuse of discretion”; and the NFL’s personal Judge Dread, Minnesota US District Judge David Doty, who invalidated an NFL arbitrator’s confirmation of Adrian Peterson’s suspension.
Goodell, who was named commissioner in 2006, is an intelligent, articulate, capable man, as evidenced by the league’s revenue growth and support he garners from owners.
But, unlike Tagliabue, he is not a lawyer. Goodell is out of his depth on disciplinary issues, yet he keeps wading out deeper and deeper.
It should provide Goodell with some pause that his brand of justice falls flat when put before folks who have experience with the actual justice system.
“Goodell’s reliance on notice of broad CBA ‘conduct detrimental’ policy — as opposed to specific Player Policies regarding equipment violations — to impose discipline upon Brady is legally misplaced,” wrote Berman.
Berman slammed Goodell for moving the goal posts in his July 28 appeal decision upholding Brady’s suspension. As he did in court, he dismissed the silly parallel Goodell drew between Brady’s alleged actions and performance-enhancing drug use.
Berman cited another labor law case to say that Goodell “dispense[d] his own brand of industrial justice.”
That’s how Patriots ownership, the “Free Brady” crowd, and Brady have felt since the original punishments against TB12 and the team came down May 11.
All of those parties rejoiced Thursday that finally someone in a position to stop the madness did. However, Berman didn’t declare that Patriots employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski never tampered with footballs. That wasn’t his charge.
Goodell has been dispensing his own brand of “industrial justice” for years. He probably has that phrase printed on his business cards.
But it’s just an industrial waste for the league.
Rog, if you truly stand for protecting the integrity of the game, then you’ll realize doing what’s right is more important than flexing your might.
To borrow your words, you got it wrong — once again.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.