Brady decision was a blow for NFL, commissioner, but it did the league one favor
Judge Richard Berman took a gavel and a chisel to Roger Goodell on Thursday by overturning Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, shredding Goodell’s comparison of deflating balls to taking steroids, admonishing the league for blocking the NFLPA from interviewing NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and obtaining investigative notes, mocking the alleged independence of the Wells report and claiming Goodell "dispensed his own brand of industrial justice."
All that said, Berman did do Goodell and the NFL one solid.
After siding with Brady and the union by agreeing there was a "lack of notice" about a possible suspension for being "generally aware" others might have deflated footballs and on the issue of a fair appeal process, Berman declined to rule on Brady’s other claims about Goodell’s partiality.
"In view of the Court’s determinations regarding the inadequacy of notice and discovery afforded to Brady," Berman wrote, "the Court does not reach Brady’s other claims."
Those claims were: Goodell was "evidently partial," Goodell improperly delegated authority to NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent to impose the suspension, Goodell justified the discipline on appeal based on evidence that wasn’t the basis for the initial punishment and Goodell lauded the Wells Report before he served as arbitrator, thus compromising his "competency as Commissioner."
To use a football analogy, Berman punted on those claims.
Quite simply, Berman felt he had enough to overturn based on the facts of this case — and this case alone — that he felt no need to pile on and provide a precedent for independent arbitration going forward.
That doesn’t mean the NFL players and their union won’t laud Berman’s ruling as a testament to what an independent arbitrator can do. Just as 2009 K-ball kicker Jay Feely walked out of a federal court in lower Manhattan on Monday and tied his friend Tom Brady’s case to the need for independent arbitration in the NFL, expect the union to continue to point to Berman’s ruling just as it did with the rulings from Judge Barbara Jones (Ray Rice) and Judge David Doty (Adrian Peterson and more).
In fact, the union’s statement shortly after the ruling was pretty much a verbal Gronk spike.
"This decision should prove, once and for all, that our Collective Bargaining Agreement does not grant this Commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement, adding: "This court’s decision to overturn the NFL Commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses. Collective bargaining is a much better process that will lead to better results."
That’s 15 yards for excessive celebration right there.
Berman’s ruling does give the NFLPA ammo to fire at the league in all future dealings. And there’s no question Goodell’s reputation took a hit here, just as it did when the Bounty suspensions were vacated by his predecessor Paul Tagliabue.
But looking at the damage done here, from a precedent standpoint, it could have been a lot worse. Goodell retains the power to hear appeals on personal conduct and integrity of the game for the rest of the current CBA, which runs through the 2020 season. Behind the scenes, some owners are irate with the length of the Deflategate saga and how sloppy the appeals process was. Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s anger toward Pash is evident, and he’s not alone in that regard, but there seems to be enough support from key figures to keep Goodell in power.
Goodell’s reputation comes away from Berman’s decision tattered but intact. Berman didn’t do anything to strip Goodell of his negotiated right to serve as an arbitrator. But as the NFLPA pointed out, it’s what Goodell does with that power that matters.