Tom Brady, facing dismal odds in the final phase of his legal clash with the National Football League, capitulated Friday and accepted a four-game suspension for allegedly violating the integrity of his sport by conspiring to deflate footballs he threw for the Patriots in their 2015 conference championship game.
A master of last-gasp miracles on the football field, Brady grudgingly abandoned his high-stakes legal conflict as it became apparent his last chance for vindication from the US Supreme Court was all but certain to fail.
Brady’s surrender ends an ugly chapter in NFL history, a protracted showdown between a powerful commissioner, Roger Goodell, and one of sport’s most celebrated stars. The episode essentially escalated from a dispute over a minor variation in the air pressure of footballs to a federal case over corporate disciplinary procedures and labor rights.
Brady made the announcement on his Facebook page, triggering an avalanche of sympathy and adoration from the Patriots faithful.
“It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process,’’ Brady’s post stated. “I’m going to work hard to be the best player I can be for the New England Patriots and I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall.’’
Brady’s decision clears the way for the Patriots to prepare his backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, to spell him for the first four games of the season and removes any possibility that Brady might have served the suspension later in the season had he pursued his appeal to the Supreme Court.
By standing down in his struggle with the NFL, Brady surprised many supporters who expected him to exhaust his final options to prevent league historians from casting him as a one-time cheater. His decision was met with resignation from neighborhood saloons to downtown skyscrapers to the corner office on Beacon Hill and Boston City Hall.
Governor Charlie Baker “is wildly disappointed by the entire episode and maintains the stance he’s held all along, that the only thing Tom Brady is guilty of is throwing a wet ball on a cold day,’’ Baker’s spokesperson, Brendan Moss, said.
Under NFL rules, Brady will not be allowed to appear at the Patriots facility or have any contact with the team, including the coaching staff, during his four-week suspension. He can participate in all preseason activities.
Brady will be absent from the team’s opener Sept. 11 at Arizona and from home games the following three weeks against Miami, Houston, and Buffalo. He will be eligible to return Oct. 9 when the Patriots play the Browns in Cleveland.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a Patriots diehard, said, “I support Tom Brady on his decision and I look forward to watching him play in Cleveland.”
Many NFL observers believe Brady could have resolved the episode swiftly, with little or no punishment, had he and the Patriots immediately acknowledged a small measure of culpability after two team assistants allegedly tampered with balls used in the first half of the team’s 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title en route to a Super Bowl championship in the 2014 season.
Brady and the Patriots, rather than positioning themselves to possibly receive a small fine for an equipment violation, instead aggressively denied any wrongdoing and portrayed themselves as victims of a commissioner bent on abusing his power. A bitter struggle ensued, with millions of dollars cascading into investigative reports, counter-narratives, and court wrangling.
“I’m sure if Tom had to do it over again, he would have answered questions differently in the beginning, right down to the press conference initially after the [Indianapolis] game,’’ said University of Massachusetts President Martin T. Meehan, a Patriots season ticket-holder for 30 years. “But the whole thing is unfortunate. I don’t know why the league acted the way it did.’’
For Meehan and countless other Patriots fans, Brady’s reputation continues to sparkle.
“Looking at the NFL and all the problems it has with player behavior both on and off the field, it’s a shame they took somebody like Tom, who really epitomizes the way a world-class athlete ought to be on and off the field, and treated him this way,’’ Meehan said.
The Patriots initially protested when Goodell fined the team $1 million and docked it two draft choices: a first-rounder this year and a fourth-rounder next year. But team owner Robert Kraft later acquiesced, which struck many Patriots fans as harmful to Brady’s cause.
On Friday, Kraft issued an impassioned defense of his franchise quarterback.
“The penalty imposed by the NFL was unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable, especially given that no empirical or direct evidence of any kind showed Tom did anything to violate league rules prior to, during or after the 2015 AFC championship game,’’ Kraft said in a prepared statement. “What Tom has had to endure throughout this 18-month ordeal has been, in my opinion, as far removed from due process as you could ever expect in this country.’’
Brady successfully challenged the suspension last year in US District in New York. But that ruling was overturned by a three-member panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in April, and the full court Wednesday denied his request for a rehearing.
One of Brady’s last hopes was to receive an emergency stay of the suspension from the Supreme Court. But legal authorities gave him almost no chance of succeeding.
The NFL Players Association, which has defended him in court, indicated it may pursue a Supreme Court appeal on his behalf, despite his decision to accept the penalty. The union contends the appeals court has set a faulty precedent by enabling Goodell to overstep his authority to discipline players.
The length of Brady’s suspension matches the four games former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel received last month for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Their suspensions are the longest for NFL quarterbacks since 2011, when Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor was assessed a five-game penalty for receiving improper benefits while he played for Ohio State University.