FOXBOROUGH – One has to wonder if there are people out there who feel happier about this than the Super Bowl win in February.
That is preposterous, of course. But it more or less feels that way.
Given how long this absurdity known as DeflateGate has dragged on, given the parameters of the absurdity, and given to what lengths both sides have gone to to try and resolve the issue, Thursday’s ruling by Judge Richard Berman vacating the four-game suspension levied on Tom Brady has the feel of a Super Bowl win. Brady is now cleared to play the entire 2015 regular season, beginning next Thursday night at Gillette Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Patriot Nation feels euphoric over the ruling, now that Brady and his team have its reputation back.
In his 40-page ruling, Berman assailed the NFL on several counts. The most critical were not giving Brady enough advance notice that his alleged transgressions would be met with a suspension of four games, and that Brady was not allowed to confront all his accusers (Jeffrey Pash, et al). Berman was able to give the Patriots legal relief in every area and every way he was legally allowed to. The NFL has announced that it will appeal the ruling, but you won’t see any substantive movement on that until at least next summer.
So, what happens now? Is this mess finally over? Or, as they say in our parts, ovah?
It’s not over yet. Brady could lose the appeal, though appellate courts in the Second District Court of Appeals overturn only about 10% of rulings before them over the last decade or so. Brady was not cleared of any wrongdoing, only that his four-game suspension is vacated. The NFL will go to the mattress to protect the shield and its power over the game and the players.
Moving forward, here is what should happen as a result of Thursday’s ruling and all the events leading up to it.
Tom Brady won a huge victory in federal court on Thursday, having his four-game suspension vacated.
(USA TODAY Images)
Roger Goodell needs to step down as commissioner. It is painfully obvious that his elevation to commissioner is a classic Peter Principle example. With so many disciplinary situations scuttled over the years (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, BountyGate), a change is in order. It isn’t enough to make owners fat and happy with lucrative television contracts. At least NHL commissioner Gary Bettman can rest easy knowing that he no longer is the least liked pro sports commissioner.
The entire discipline system in the NFL needs to be gutted and rebuilt. Maybe Troy Vincent needs to go also. With all this handing down penalties only to have them overturned in courts later on, the system is definitely wrong. There is no set hierarchical plan, no set consistent due process, no predictable consequence for a particular offense. Give MLB credit for having a better discipline system in place, where players pretty much know what happens if you misbehave.
Home teams should provide the balls for all games, but the league should oversee the handling process at all times. This was mentioned in this column several months ago. The home team should deliver all two dozen balls to league officials, then they do not handle the balls at all until game time. In MLB, the home team delivers 12 dozen baseballs to the umpires, who take the balls, go into a private room and rub them up with Delaware River mud. They take complete charge of the balls until game time, so that the home team’s catcher can’t scuff them up or doctor them to the likings of that day’s starting pitcher. The same thing should happen in the NFL. This way, if there is any deflation of footballs, it will either be the league’s fault or that atmospheric lesson we all got from Bill Belichick several months ago is really true.
The last thing that should happen probably won’t until 2021 (when the CBA is up for renegotiation), but it would be nice if, say, a court ordered it. Goodell should no longer be the sole judge of disciplinary hearings in the NFL. It has been shown many times over that he is not the right man for that job. It is the fault of the NFLPA for agreeing to it in the first place. An independent arbitrator would have to be the right person for the job. In the Brady case, all the proper witnesses would have been called and examined, all the due process would have been followed, and if Brady indeed warranted a suspension, it would be binding and not called into question. While particulars could whine and complain, there would be no further legal prodceedings because an arbitrator’s ruling would be final.
As it stands right now, Brady beat the NFL and beat them handily. It was pretty much like how they handled the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The NFL was sharply rebuked by Berman, even though some legal experts felt the NFL had the law on their side and Berman was merely trying to goad the NFL into a settlement with Brady that the league felt it had no need to do. Berman put the hammer down on the league, and put it down hard.
While Goodell and his minions plan their next step, the NFL owners should be doing the same thing. Once the model pro sports entity and the envy of the entire sporting world, the NFL is sporting way too many black eyes these days. Changes need to be made at the league level, and not just little, minor changes.
Patriot Nation can now sit back and watch the Patriots defend their Super Bowl champ fully loaded for bear. Thursday night will be a gala ceremony, with the unveiling of the new Super Bowl XLIX banner, fireworks, and a big wingding for all the nation to see on NBC. Of course, they still have to deal with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers after the celebration. But at least all hands will be on deck.
And that includes the most important hands of all, those of Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo did well in the preseason and in preparing for what might have been the first four starts of his NFL career. But his first start will have to wait. The only man who should start at quarterback for the Patriots will do just that on Thursday night.
Today, the NFL. Tomorrow, the Steelers. Finally, Brady is on to Pittsburgh.
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