Just when you thought you had finally moved on with your life, Deflategate reared its ugly head Monday morning and entered back into your news stream. It is the story that, like Keith Richards, will not fully die.
To the dismay of football fans in the Boston area and the joy of football fans in Arizona, Miami, Houston and Buffalo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady – barring some legal gymnastics – will be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 NFL regular season for his connection to deflated footballs used in the 2014-2015 AFC Championship Game.
First world problems indeed.
Brady will be suspended because the U.S. Second Court of Appeals (in a 2-1 decision) nullified the September 2015 decision of U.S. District Judge Richard Berman which had vacated the suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell months earlier.
There are many websites that will give you a blow by blow of what this decision means and what the Court effectively found. I would recommend Lester Munson – he’s the best in the business and has a great analysis here. But if that isn’t enough to quench your thirst for Tom Brady legal issues, you can read the full opinion here. However, if you are considering this second option – DO NOT DO IT. I read the whole opinion (including the dissent) and fell asleep twice.
However, I did eventually get through the entire thing, and after re-reading the previous decision handed down by Berman I concluded, as I usually do with most legal opinions, that the finest jurists in the country wrote a 33-page opinion that could have been sent out in three tweets.
But if you need to know anything about Monday’s opinion just read this excerpt:
“We hold that the commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand with instructions to confirm the award.” (Page 2: 19-24)
Hopefully, you noticed that “broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement” was put in bold. Why? Because the Second Circuit was (generally) only looking at one thing: “Whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act.”
Meaning this appeal was not about Brady. It was about Goodell.
In other words, the Court determined whether Goodell – by being the arbitrator at Brady’s disciplinary hearing and unilaterally issuing the suspension against Brady – did in fact breach the CBA signed between the NFLPA and the NFL owners. The answer to that question, at least according to the two Second Circuit Court judges who opined this decision, is No.
By cutting through the entire CBA between the NFLPA and the team owners, the Second Circuit found that the Commissioner is not only allowed to sit as the arbitrator in all disciplinary hearings, but he has the broad discretion and sole power to determine what constitutes ‘conduct detrimental’ (sorry Johnny Football) to the league.
Further, the Court pointed out that the NFLPA agreed to give the Commissioner this power and “Had the parties wished to restrict the Commissioner’s authority, they could have fashioned a different agreement.”
I’m sure The NFLPA would love to have that bad judgment back.
This certainly does not give Goodell free reign to do whatever he wants, but after he taking some hits over the past few years (See Ray Rice), this was a win for Goodell.
Of course, Brady’s attorneys are the best in the business at what they do and very well financed — meaning this fight may not be over. Brady’s legal team could present what is called an en banc appeal, which would request all active second circuit judges (more than 20) to come together to hear his case.
However, his chances of this appeal being successful are very slim. In fact, Federal Appellate Rules essentially disfavor this practice unless the issue is exceptionally important. And unless you have Brady on your fantasy team, it’s tough to argue that this case – in contrast to health care issues or issues that actually affect real people – is exceptionally important.
Brady’s other option? Get the United States Supreme Court to hear his case. However, I would say it’s more likely that Rex Grossman leads the Chicago Bears to their second Super Bowl Championship next year than it would be for the Supreme Court to hear Brady’s case.
In the end, we may never truly know whether Brady deflated the footballs. However, what we now know is that even if nobody likes Roger Goodell, everyone is stuck with him.