Enough hot air — time for both sides to settle Deflategate
The NFL Players Association dumped a 457-page transcript of the Tom Brady appeal hearing onto the media and general public on Tuesday, thus adding to the nearly seven months of analysis, investigation, rhetoric and grandstanding.
I pored over it all. It led me to one overarching takeaway.
Settle this damn thing already.
We’re at the point now of poking microscopic holes in both sides’ arguments. It’s what lawyers do, and Jeffrey Kessler and his team at the NFLPA have done it, as have the lawyers on the NFL’s end, which for some reason included Loren Reisner — an attorney at the firm that conducted the original independent investigation — as the one who cross-examined Brady.
We could examine how Kessler got Ted Wells, who led the investigation, to say he discounted Brady’s testimony because Brady wouldn’t hand over his phone records, an assessment that comes off less objective and more spiteful. Wells called that decision one of the worst pieces of legal advice he has encountered in his career. We could look at the sloppiness of the NFL’s game-day operations and subsequent investigation of the incident, which is evident in Troy Vincent’s testimony.
We could even take into account a passing comment by Kessler that he was approaching "the end of the time that you have given us," a reference to the supposed time limit the NFL put on Brady’s side before the proceedings began. It was surely Kessler’s attempt to nudge whichever judge would be assigned the case and note, "Hey, we didn’t get a fair shake here."
On the other side is Brady’s lack of cooperation and inconsistent answers about whether air pressure actually affects the feel of the football. And there was Brady’s failure to remember the details of his phone disposal around the time he met with Wells. "I don’t know" and "Possibly" were among Brady’s go-to replies when Reisner peppered him with questions about his supposed standard procedure of destroying his phone. Speaking of which, Brady claimed in his statement on his Facebook page last week he got rid of his Samsung phone because he was switching to an iPhone 6. However, the expert retained by the NFLPA to provide an analysis of Brady’s phone declared Brady actually switched to another Samsung.
A hole. A tiny one. And there are plenty of them. But none of them big enough to blow this case open.
Which is why it’s about time to wrap this up.
Judge Richard Berman feels that way. He’s made it clear he has little interest in seeing this case all the way through and has encouraged both parties to engage in "comprehensive, good-faith settlement discussions" ahead of the first status conference next week. There’s another one scheduled a week behind that one. Berman has also stated he has a "good understanding of your positions from your submissions to date."
That’s code for, "I have a pretty good idea where I’d rule on this one already." It’s unlikely anything in Tuesday’s filing and transcript would sway Berman. (Remember, Berman’s job isn’t to tackle the evidence and determine whether Brady doctored the footballs; it’s merely to determine whether Goodell and the league office overstepped their bounds of the collective bargaining agreement by inflicting such a harsh penalty on Brady.)
As for the proverbial court of public opinion, the jurors have long since made up their minds. The staunch Brady supporters skimmed the transcripts and saw more examples of injustice. The Patriot haters, meanwhile, are only more convinced Brady is a cheat and a liar. Both sides are frustrated to see their NFL programming preempted by more Brady news and their Twitter and Facebook feeds hijacked by more legalese they care little to interpret.
This entire case has stalled. Credit Berman and Judge Richard Kyle for trying to expedite proceedings (Kyle last week swiftly refused the NFL’s attempt to have the case heard in Minnesota, assuring the case would be heard by Berman in New York). But a situation that should have long since been resolved is hanging over the start of the regular season. It’s time to cut it loose.
The NFL won’t just allow Brady to avoid a suspension here. Not after they allowed this entire situation to spiral into another legal mess. And Brady won’t admit guilt. A game or two for his lack of cooperation allows the NFL to maintain its precedent going forward, while Brady can keep his legacy cleaner than it was when this process first began — thanks to the car wash Kessler put it through. There’s enough doubt and inconsistency (e.g. Vincent saying the league ignored Aaron Rodgers’ saying he likes the football overinflated because it was a "postgame" comment) to give Brady deniability.
Surely, no one is caving in the immediate future. Not until they get deeper into Berman’s timeline, anyway. But both would be wise to realize enough is enough.
It’s time to take the hot air out of this whole case.