NEW YORK (CN) — A divided Second Circuit on Monday reinstated New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension over “Deflategate,” in a win for the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion, was suspended after the National Football League accused the quarterback of destroying his cellphone to keep it from investigators looking into allegedly deflated footballs from the Jan. 18, 2015, AFC Championship Game between Brady’s Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.
A federal judge vacated the suspension last September, just weeks before the NFL’s regular season began, after Brady and the NFL players’ union challenged the disciplinary action. The league appealed.
In a hearing last month, Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin told an attorney for Brady’s union that, “the evidence of ball tampering is compelling, if not overwhelming.”
The New York City-based appeals court reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension Monday, finding that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had authority to suspend Brady under the league and union’s collective-bargaining agreement.
“Here, the parties contracted in the CBA to specifically allow the Commissioner to sit as the arbitrator in all disputes brought pursuant to Article 46, Section 1(a),” Judge Barrington Parker wrote for the 2-1 majority. “They did so knowing full well that the Commissioner had the sole power of determining what constitutes ‘conduct detrimental,’ and thus knowing that the Commissioner would have a stake both in the underlying discipline and in every arbitration brought pursuant to Section 1(a). Had the parties wished to restrict the Commissioner’s authority, they could have fashioned a different agreement.”
Parker also said that Goodell “was within his discretion to conclude that Brady had ‘participated in a scheme to tamper with game balls,'” based on evidence presented in the Wells Report, named after lead “Deflategate” investigator Ted Wells.
Chin joined Parker in the decision to reverse the lower court. The case was remanded for the reinstatement of Brady’s suspension.
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann dissented, finding that Goodell changed “the factual basis for the disciplinary action after the appeal hearing.”
“Additionally, on a more fundamental level, I am troubled by the Commissioner’s decision to uphold the unprecedented four-game suspension. The Commissioner failed to even consider a highly relevant alternative penalty and relied, instead, on an inapt analogy to the League’s steroid policy,” Katzmann wrote. “This deficiency, especially when viewed in combination with the shifting rationale for Brady’s discipline, leaves me to conclude that the Commissioner’s decision reflected ‘his own brand of industrial justice.'”
The majority of the three-judge panel took no issue with Goodell’s steroid analogy.
“We believe the Commissioner was within his discretion in drawing a helpful, if somewhat imperfect, comparison to steroid users,” Parker wrote. “In any event, we believe this issue is much ado about very little because the Commissioner could have imposed the same suspension without reference to the League’s steroid policy.”
The NFL Players Association, the union for Brady and the rest of the league’s football players, said in a statement that it will review the decision and consider its options.
“The NFLPA is disappointed in the decision by the Second Circuit,” the union said. “We fought Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement.”
The league said in a statement Monday that Goodell’s authority to act in cases involving the integrity of the game “has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years.”
Brady’s options to fight the suspension now include seeking a stay and either asking for a rehearing before the full Second Circuit or appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, NFL Network reporter Albert Breer tweeted Monday morning.
According to an Associated Press report, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump said Monday at a campaign stop in Rhode Island, “Leave Tom Brady alone.”
Trump reportedly told supporters at a rally that Brady is a “great guy” and “it’s enough.”
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