Tom Brady Suspension Nullified

This might be Brady’s most important win in 2015. Y’know, if you don’t count that whole Super Bowl thing. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

This might be Brady’s most important win in 2015. Y’know, if you don’t count that whole Super Bowl thing. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time since the courts had the Tom Brady suspension nullified last week, Brady himself spoke to the press this weekend about his relief over having the four-game suspension overturned. He said that it’s “obviously been a long seven months for everybody,” that he would rather not discuss his personal feelings on the matter, and that he was simply excited to start playing football again. Aside from that, he didn’t answer too many questions directly, beating around the bush on touchy subjects such as John Jastremski and Jim McNally, the New England Patriots equipment staffers who were suspended in the wake of Deflategate.

We’re not going to spend too much time picking apart every little thing that Brady said, because that’ll be done to death over the coming weeks and we’re fine with not being a part of it. Instead, let’s take a look at the court’s review process, and which details helped the Pats get the Tom Brady suspension nullified in the first place. We’ll also talk about both the pros and cons of having the Tom Brady suspension nullified, and the possible effects that the NFL’s ever-so-predictable appeal might have on the situation.

Details of the Court Decision

Judge Richard Berman is practically a household name due to his role in this decision. Which is ridiculous, when you think about it. Do you know the name of the judge who oversaw the murder conviction of Aaron Hernandez? No? Didn’t think so. Then again, being a household name isn’t always a good thing. (Courtroom sketch by Jane Rosenberg)

Judge Richard Berman is practically a household name due to his role in this decision. Which is ridiculous, when you think about it. Do you know the name of the judge who oversaw the murder conviction of Aaron Hernandez? No? Didn’t think so. Then again, being a household name isn’t always a good thing. (Courtroom sketch by Jane Rosenberg)

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times does a pretty solid job of breaking down the court’s decision to have the Tom Brady suspension nullified, and what precisely this means in regard to Brady’s alleged role in the Deflategate controversy. If you’re a Pats fan, the nullification means that Brady is innocent. If you’re anyone else, it means that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did a poor job of handling this case. And he did. He really, really did.

We’ve spoken before about the fact that Roger Goodell has a pretty tough position. No matter what he did, he was going to take flack for how he handled the Patriots and the issue with their deflated footballs. Had there been no Tom Brady suspension nullification, people would still be saying that he was unduly harsh. The only difference it’s made in that regard is that New Englanders are now a bit more celebratory in their hatred for Goodell. Even if Brady hadn’t been suspended in the first place, there would have been people smearing Goodell’s name for failing to punish cheaters.

But whether or not he has a difficult job, the judge in this case felt that he could have performed much better. We mentioned when we talked about the four-game suspension and Brady’s probable appeal (long before there were rumors that we would soon see the Tom Brady suspension nullified) that many criticized the Wells Report for failing to prove Brady’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This made it somewhat difficult for Goodell to defend his position when punishing Brady, and the criticism against him was virtually inevitable. The faults in the Wells Report also provided Brady’s legal team with excellent ammunition for his appeal.

The result was that US District Judge Richard Berman found in favor of nullifying Tom Brady’s suspension. Among the “several significant legal deficiencies” Berman saw in the NFL’s case were the fact that Brady was denied access to investigative files and the fact that he was not given adequate warning that suspension was a possible consequence of his alleged participation in the deflation of footballs for the New England Patriots. The Wells Report itself, which said only that Brady likely had some general awareness of the deflation, was also found to be greatly insufficient grounds for suspension.

While many New Englanders were happy to see the Tom Brady suspension nullified, others were quick to judge the decision. As noted earlier, this ruling really does nothing to demonstrate Brady’s innocence. In fact, Judge Berman did not really handle the belief that Brady knew more than he has let on. We’ll get to that a bit later, when detailing common arguments against having the Tom Brady suspension nullified. All you need to know for now is that, whether or not you agree with his decision, Judge Berman had sufficient legal reasoning for overturning the suspension based on several missteps taken by the NFL.

Arguments in Favor of Nullification

Since Donald Trump and Tom Brady appear to support each other’s endeavors, you can bet mega-dollars to gilded donuts that the presidential hopeful shares many of the views espoused below. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Since Donald Trump and Tom Brady appear to support each other’s endeavors, you can bet mega-dollars to gilded donuts that the presidential hopeful shares many of the views espoused below. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Berman’s legal reasoning is naturally one of the common arguments in favor of having the Tom Brady suspension nullified, even if it has some flaws (which we’ll get to later). And it wasn’t just Patriots fans who supported the decision. Brady’s gotten support from other quarterbacks as well, such as Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to Roethlisberger, Goodell “jumped to a pretty harsh punishment” for Brady, whom Roethlisberger considers to be “the best in the business.”

Roethlisberger has a point. Such a good point, in fact, that some people believe that having the Tom Brady suspension nullified was actually in the NFL’s best interest. Bear in mind that the NFL gets money for televised broadcasts. And as Fox Sports 1 personality Colin Cowherd points out, the ratings for Brady’s first four games should be amazing. If nothing else, they’re likely to be way higher for Brady than they would have been for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Needless to say, those who agree with having the Tom Brady suspension nullified will not be too happy if the NFL wins their appeal. If the suspension is reinstated later in the season, then the damage could be much worse than it would have been if Brady’s punishment had never been overturned to begin with. If this happens, Goodell should prepare himself for a wave of media judgment as fans and journalists alike unite once again to remind him that this punishment is harder on the team than it is on Brady. The Pats can probably stay on top of the AFC East with or without Brady as quarterback, but their overall standings might drop if Garoppolo has to sub in for him late in the season.

The New York Post, which wrote some scathing articles that we’ll get to in a minute, noted that Judge Berman had some pretty harsh words concerning Goodell. Berman accused Goodell of “dispensing his own brand of industrial justice.” Many of those who agreed with having the Tom Brady suspension nullified are prone to agree, believing that Goodell’s actions were based less on what was fair and more on his desire to assert power and save face after a run of controversial decisions as commissioner.

Basically, the consensus viewpoint of those who support having the Tom Brady suspension nullified is that Goodell’s punishment was too harsh, and that he hasn’t done the best job of running his league. Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated shares this view, declaring that Goodell “has no business handing out discipline in league matters.” While there are those who truly believe that Brady is innocent, the fact of the matter is that his support seems to be based more on hatred for Goodell than on anything else.

Arguments Opposing Nullification

We can only imagine this was the face Goodell made when Berman’s decision was first handed down. (CBS Sports via USA TODAY Sports)

We can only imagine this was the face Goodell made when Berman’s decision was first handed down. (CBS Sports via USA TODAY Sports)

“It’s obviously been a long seven months for everybody.” That’s what Brady said when addressing the media. Seven months. So, does that mean it’s about time for him to destroy his new cell phone? Because apparently he does that on a pretty regular basis. Or at least, that’s what he said about the one he conveniently destroyed back when investigators needed to look at it. The whole thing was rather sketchy. Maybe it wasn’t solid proof that he had anything to do with the deflated game balls, but it didn’t make a great case for his innocence.

This is one of the major points of contention among those who argue against the decision to have the Tom Brady suspension nullified. The not-so-subtly titled New York Post article “Fess up, Tom” mentions the destroyed cell phone, as well as a few other lingering questions that remain at the conclusion of Brady’s case. They also mention his failure to cooperate fully with the Wells investigation, his favorable relationship with Jim McNally, and Brady’s assertion that he didn’t know what PSI was. This last one does seem especially shady, although we have to disagree with their final point regarding Brady’s evasion of the media during Deflategate. True, refusing to speak to the media may not look good. But no matter how much you think he cheated, it’s pretty understandable that he’d be fed up with the hoopla.

But the New York Post didn’t stop there. Their editorial board had some other issues with the decision to have the Tom Brady suspension nullified. They specifically took issue with Judge Berman’s finding that Brady was not properly notified of his potential suspension. They argue that a member of the Patriots organization has no reason to expect punishment for cheating, given the relatively insignificant punishment the Pats received for filming other teams’ signals back in 2007.

It should be noted that these arguments still have as much to do with Goodell as they do with Brady and the Patriots. Goodell’s failure to notify players of possible sanctions for their awareness of cheating was what largely opened the door for the Pats to have the Tom Brady suspension nullified. To provide a more common legal example, a criminal’s confession is not admissible in court if they have not been read their Miranda rights. The fact that the arresting officer dropped the ball does not mean the criminal is innocent or that they truly deserve their freedom from anything but a legal standpoint. Applying that to this case, one might argue that Goodell simply dropped the ball. That might have provided adequate legal reasoning for having the Tom Brady suspension nullified, but it doesn’t mean Brady deserves it.

A satirical article by The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz implies that Judge Berman only overturned Brady’s suspension because Brady is on his fantasy team. There’s no reason to suspect that there’s any truth to this, as hilarious as it would be to believe. But one thing is for certain—Berman definitely seemed to be giving Brady preferential treatment, given how harsh he was with the NFL. We’ll talk a bit more about that below.

How the NFL May Proceed

The NFL plans to appeal, but they might already have a lot of legal work ahead of them since Brady’s success has inspired Greg Hardy to appeal his own suspension. (Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL plans to appeal, but they might already have a lot of legal work ahead of them since Brady’s success has inspired Greg Hardy to appeal his own suspension. (Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s face it—we all knew this probably wasn’t over. There’s always hope that it will be, but both sides seem to be pretty stubborn about trying to get their way on this one. Even Brady didn’t seem too surprised at the NFL’s decision to appeal the case. In his statement to the press, he stated that he respects Goodell’s position and is simply looking forward to his opening against the Steelers. The respect seems to be mutual, since Goodell did not attend the Patriots’ opening game against the Pittsburgh Steelers so as not to draw attention away from the festivities. He was also probably wise to the fact that fans wouldn’t necessarily want him there.

At least, it seems like Brady and the NFL have a mutual respect for one another. Aside from their plans to appeal Judge Berman’s decision in court, they have not said much about the case and how it was decided. They did, however, make a somewhat ill-advised post on Twitter this past weekend. When they posted an image of several quarterbacks who might lead their teams to victory in this season’s Super Bowl, several Twitter users noticed that Brady’s image was curiously absent. They deleted the tweet, but apparently they forgot how the internet works before posting it in the first place. Nothing goes away forever.

In any case, let’s put pettiness aside in favor of the real issues. While the NFL’s appeal might not be surprising, there is some question as to whether or not it will be effective. In a Huff Post article regarding the appeal’s chances for success, criminal defense attorney Kevin Sali claims that Judge Berman actually might have had insufficient reasoning for having the Tom Brady suspension nullified. The argument is that Goodell had authority regarding how much evidence Brady was allowed to see, as well as how much notice should be given to Brady regarding his possible suspension. If it is assumed that Goodell and the NFL had authority on these issues, then Sali believes the NFL’s appeal could be successful on these grounds.

There are others, however, who believe that the NFL should reconsider their appeal entirely. With the Tom Brady suspension nullified by Judge Berman, he would likely be in charge of the next round of proceedings after the NFL wins a reversal. It’s a bit complicated, but the long and short of it is that a successful appeal by the NFL could drag out the situation even longer. This is fine from Brady’s perspective, since the NFL is not taking measures to keep him suspended while they pursue their appeal. So however long it takes, he’ll be able to take to the field for the time being.

The NFL, however, could wind up knees-deep in legal suits. After Dallas Cowboys DE Greg Hardy received word that Berman had had the Tom Brady suspension nullified, he began to entertain the idea of challenging his own four-game suspension. The cases really aren’t similar at all, since Hardy was suspended for domestic abuse charges (which have now been dropped). If he does appeal his suspension, it’ll be interesting to see if Dallas stands behind him the way New England stood behind Brady. Either way, between Brady and Hardy, NFL officials might be spending a lot of time in court over the coming months.

This is a pretty controversial topic that has divided a number of football fans, so we’d like to leave you on something of a lighthearted note. Latin Times collects a few of the most common memes regarding the erasure of Brady’s suspension, some of which are in favor of the decision to have the Tom Brady suspension nullified, others of which are opposed. They reference everything from the conviction of former Patriot Aaron Hernandez to the Tom Brady courtroom sketch that got way, way too much media attention (and still does). We’ll leave you with one of our favorites, mostly just because it’s based on a true story:

It's really only funny if you know it's a true story. Or if you know what a weird relationship Boston has with Dunkin' Donuts. They used to have a Dunkin' Donutes/Osaka Sushi Express on Cambridge Street. It was part of the duck boat tour. Don't know why. New England just loves donuts. (Photo via Latin Times)

It’s really only funny if you know it’s a true story. Or if you know what a weird relationship New England has with Dunkin’ Donuts. Boston used to have a Dunkin’ Donuts/Osaka Sushi Express on Cambridge Street. It was part of the duck tour. Don’t know why. New England just loves donuts. Even when they’re eating sushi. (Photo via Latin Times)