Tom Brady Suspended Four Games, Patriots Fined, In DeflateGate Scandal

It didn't take the N.F.L. long to lower the hammer on Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Patriots Colts

Less than a week after the release of the results of an investigation into the use of deflated footballs during this year’s AFC Championship Game, the National Football League has suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games in the upcoming season and fined the Patriots:

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be suspended for four games, the league announced Monday. The team will also lose its first-round draft pick in 2016 as well as its fourth-round draft pick in 2017.

ed Wells’ report regarding the allegations that the team deflated footballs in the AFC championship game was released on Wednesday. The report found that ”it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules” and that it is probable that Brady “was at least generally aware of… the release of air from Patriots game balls .”

The report found that James McNally and John Jastremski, who were both suspended from the team on Monday indefinitely without pay, ”participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.”

In a previously scheduled appearance Thursday night at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., Brady largely deflected questions about the report, saying it did not “taint” the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory.

After the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game, there were accusations the New England used footballs that were inflated below league requirements. The league confirmed that prior to the game, the balls were all tested and found to be of satisfactory inflation, and that the balls were all properly inflated for the second half and remained that way.

At a press conference in January, Brady said he “didn’t alter the balls in any way” and “would never have someone do something that was outside the rules.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was shocked to hear about the Deflategate controversy and initially had no explanation for the under-inflated footballs. He later posited that the difference between atmospheric conditions on the field and in the locker room could be to blame. He also floated the idea that rubbing the footballs could alter their pressure levels. Belichick’s theories were disputed by representatives from Wilson, the NFL’s football manufacturer, and scientist Bill Nye.

More from ESPN:

The NFL has suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady four games for his role in deflating footballs for the AFC Championship Game, the league said in a statement Monday.

The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017 and have been fined $1 million.

The punishment was announced five days after the release of a lengthy report, which found that Patriots personnel deliberately deflated footballs before the AFC Championship Game in January and that Brady “was at least generally aware” of the violations.

The 243-page report by league-appointed attorney Ted Wells said it was “more probable than not” that Brady was aware of plans to prepare the footballs to his liking, below the NFL-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.

The report identified two Patriots employees — officials’ locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski — as the ones who executed the plan.

Brady repeatedly stated that he did not know about the efforts to deflate the game balls, but Wells’ report found those claims “not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.”

Brady’s agent said last week that the report contains “significant and tragic flaws” and suggested that the NFL cooperated in a “sting operation” with the Indianapolis Colts, who had alerted the league of their suspicions of the Patriots’ use of under-inflated footballs.

There had been reports all day today that we would be hearing something from the league regarding an official response to the report some time within the next twenty-four hours, and the speculation was that Brady would be hit with a suspension of between two and six games. This sanction, then, falls somewhere in the middle of that prediction and yet still stands as one of the longer suspensions for on-field conduct that we’ve seen from the league in quite some time. Additionally, the monetary fine against the Patriots exceeds the fines that were imposed on the team and on Coach Bill Bellichick for the so-called Spy-Gate scandal where the Patriots were caught using on field camera to monitor opponents on the sidelines. To some extent, one has to assume that the fact that the team has a history of previous rules violations is at least part of the motivation for the harshness of the fine here. Additionally, the statement from the league states that one part of the determination of the length of Brady’s suspension was the fact that he refused to fully cooperate with the investigation. Specifically, Brady refused to allow investigators to have access to his text messages and, as you may recall, a substantial part of the the evidence uncovered by the investigation included text messages between two Patriots trainers discussing the plan to deflate balls and at least insinuating that Brady was fully aware of what was going on and communicating with at least one of the two men.

This last issue was mentioned in the league’s letter to Brady:

“With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge. Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information, and by providing testimony that the report concludes was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.

“Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football. The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules. Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question.”

Neither Brady, the Patriots, nor the N.F.L. Player’s Association have released responses to the announced sanctions just yet, but one can assume that they will not be pleased about this and that the appropriate appeals will be filed. In that case, just as we saw last season with the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson matters, the  case will be referred to an outside arbitrator who may not release their report for several more months, and possibly not until just before the start of the season. In that arbitration, we could see the entire decision overturned, or we could see it modified in some such, such as in a shorter suspension for Brady or lower fine for Patriots.

It strikes me that this is surprisingly strong move by the league given the tone of the report that was released last week. As I noted then, the report does not come to any definitive conclusions, instead concluding that it was more probable than not that Brady was aware of and involved in the scheme to introduce deflated footballs into the game against the Colts. It’s also suggested throughout the report, but again not proven to any significant extent, that this deflation scheme is a tactic that had been used several times in the past, which is significant because it was apparently suspicions that this was happened that led the Colts to alert the league that there might be an issue with the balls even before the game started last January. While this is not a criminal matter and the league doesn’t have the obligation to prove that Brady and the Patriots are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it strikes me that the factual basis for the league’s sanctions may be flimsier than they appear at a distance. Given that, while it seems unlikely that an arbitrator would completely dismiss the sanctions that were imposed today, I would not be surprised to see the sanctions against both Brady and the team reduced at least to some degree.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pinky says:

    I’m surprised Brady was suspended at all, but he did fail to “protect the shield”, which is job #1 for NFL players.

  2. markm says:

    Wow…..and the loss of a first round pick?.

    If they had done something to that changed the outcome of the game I would be on board. Deflated balls had no bearing on the outcome. The Pats owned the 2nd half with properly inflated balls….no?.

  3. rodney dill says:

    @markm: So you’re thinking he only decided to cheat in this one, and only game?

  4. markm says:

    @rodney…..I don’t doubt for a moment that he/the Pats have ‘cheated’ in more than that game. But I also don’t think it’s out of the norm. It may not be deflating footballs or corking bats or performance enhancing drugs……I don’t think it’s uncommon to ‘cheat’ at that level.

    And again, they supposedly got caught in THIS game (against the Colts). It didn’t impact the outcome of the game.

  5. Pinky says:

    Tom Brady is an amazing athlete, and still in great shape. But he’s turning 38 during the pre-season. You’d better have a decent backup for a 38-year-old athlete, suspension or not. If you’re not prepared to win games without him, you’re not a coaching genius.

  6. markm says:

    $5 says this penalty is overturned or decreased after appeal.

    REAL thin evidence.

  7. Gustopher says:

    They should have vacated the win in that game — and then made the players all give back their Superbowl rings since they shouldn’t have advanced without that win.

    The only way a punishment serves as deterrence is if it is severe enough to not just be a cost of doing business.

  8. EddieInCA says:

    Based on their fumbling stats, I’d guess the Patriots have been deflating footballs back to 2004.

  9. Hal_10000 says:

    @markm:

    I think this is most likely something, like the Saints bounty thing, that’s been going on for a while and the league overlooked for a long time. Now they’re trying to make an example of someone.

    My initial reaction to this scandal was very strong but I’m been persuaded that this is much ado about very little. Technically, yes, the Patriots broke the rule. But the NY Giants have an entire routine on breaking in their balls that’s perfectly legal. Look for the rule to eventually be quietly abandoned or lessened. The NFL loves offense and anything that makes quarterbacks throw better is eventually going to be allowed.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Now THAT “draconian” joke of a penalty will certainly teach them a lesson … LOL

  11. James Pearce says:

    The only Patriot fan I know is rather shameless about the whole affair. She proudly posted a pic of 4 Vince Lombardi trophies to her Facebook wall.

    Having seen that, I’d take your $5 bet, markm. Contrition is often the first step towards exoneration.

    And, Doug, “surprisingly strong?” I’m with HarvardLaw92 on this. Aside from the fines, the suspension is “substance abuse policy” level stuff.

    @Hal_10000:

    Look for the rule to eventually be quietly abandoned or lessened.

    This is an interesting take. I actually think the opposite will occur. That is, I think game balls will get extra scrutiny for the time being.

    How deflated they can be will be a matter of discussion. I do not think it will ever become okay to deflate game balls after they’ve been tested to meet minimum standards.

  12. Pinky says:

    What I think would have been appropriate is assigning an NFL compliance officer to the team, with free investigative range. No more assumption that they’re following the rules. The relative inflation of the footballs isn’t the league’s problem as much as the appearance that the Patriots have been flouting the rules.

  13. @markm:

    It will depend on how the arbitration works out.

    Under NFL rules, the default arbitrator is…….Roger Goodell (I am not making that up) but the parties making the appeal can make a request for an outside arbitrator, usually a retired Federal Judge or some other high profile attorney. That’s what happened in the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases. But, the decision on whether or not to grant that request is made by……Roger Goodell.

    I suspect the NFLPA is going to have something to say about all this.

  14. Tony W says:

    No matter what happens now, Tom Brady will forever have an asterisk by his name in every fan’s memory. Pat’s can’t win without cheating, or worse yet – are so insecure about their abilities that they cheat anyway. You can suspend him for 4 games, 2 games or a whole season, doesn’t matter. The sheen is dulled.

  15. markm says:

    @Doug M

    If the report had smoking gun evidence of Brady or the Pats directly and clearly telling someone to deflate footballs to a certain pressure…….that’s one thing.

    As far as I know, that’s not the case.

    Mr Kraft has a lot of money involved with his team. He will push back strongly and his push back will carry big weight (IMO).

    I don’t think the ‘deed’ and the evidence equal to other suspensions for far worse offenses.

    We’ll see.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    Under NFL rules, the default arbitrator is…….Roger Goodell…But, the decision on whether or not to grant that request is made by……Roger Goodell.

    I suspect the NFLPA is going to have something to say about all this.

    Sounds like the Star Chamber* to me…
    If I was the Players association I would watch out!
    *In the Star Chamber the council could inflict any punishment short of death, and frequently sentenced objects of its wrath to the pillory, to whipping and to the cutting off of ears…. With each embarrassment to arbitrary power the Star Chamber became emboldened to undertake further usurpation…
    WikiP

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: I’m not a fan of vacating wins. The NCAA does it so routinely—and frankly, usually for things less severe than actual cheating to win games—that it seems like vacated championships, changes to coach/school win totals, and the like are routine. Yet it’s all BS. The schools won those games on the field, the fans of the losing teams don’t get any satisfaction retrospectively, and most of us count the wins as wins.

    @James Pearce: It seems to me obvious that the NFL ought to simply provide the balls for games and they ought be under the control of the officials during play. No other sport allows teams to doctor the balls up; they should be uniform.

    @Pinky: To borrow an NCAA phrase, the Patriots have suffered a loss of institutional control. They’re repeated cheaters but it’s not like we’re going to ban them from postseason play. The loss of two 1st round draft picks (one for Spygate, and now this one) is a pretty minor price to pay for four Super Bowl wins and two more appearances.

    @Tony W: I simultaneously think Brady is the best quarterback of the Super Bowl era and that his achievements are slightly tainted. It’s not quite the same as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons, arguably the best hitter and pitcher in my lifetime, whose achievements were quite probably substantially assisted by PEDs. I think the advantage Brady got from this and Spygate were likely minimal. But the scandals have to go into the first paragraph of his career summary.

    @ernieyeball: The players rightly complain about the injustice of the Commissioner having these powers. But they’re collectively bargained! They never fight for these issues, focusing only on the bottom line.

  18. rodney dill says:

    The Pats should be made to play next season on offense with entirely deflated balls.

  19. Pete S says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I thought that in Robert Kraft’s statement he said that the team was willing to accept the punishment, so it looks like there won’t be an appeal.

    And the team, not the league, suspended the equipment guys although the league now says that they cannot be reinstated without league approval. I think the Patriots would be in a tough spot to argue before an arbitrator that there is no evidence, when they already handed out suspensions.

  20. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Re vacating the playoff game:
    Go ahead and vacate the all Patriot scoring for the first half (when the balls had been deflated). Result is the same.

    This punsihment has more to do with the previously tarnished image of the NFL, and Brady’s reluctance to allow public exposure to his pillowtalk.

    Note to HL92: Brady’s passing performance during the second half (with “hard footballs”) was 92% compared to a 50% performance during the first half.

  21. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    Big deal. They cheated. They deserve to have the win vacated. Are you asserting that cheating should be overlooked or ignored if you think it makes no difference in the outcome?

  22. JWH says:

    If they want to punish Tom Brady, they ought to make him play four games with the Washington Redskins ….

  23. stonetools says:

    Next up, should we asterik Alex Rogriguez’s home run record because he used steriods? (recently he passed Will Mays on the all-time home run standings).

    What say you, Mr. OP and proud Yankees fan?

  24. wr says:

    Since it’s so obviously rigged, maybe the answer is for everyone to stop paying attention to this bloated, ridiculous tool for selling beer and tires. Maybe find a real sport to watch.

    Just a thought.

  25. Pinky says:

    @JWH: Most of the people on this site oppose capital punishment. Sending someone onto the field with only the Redskins offensive line to protect him, he’s dead.

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @wr:

    “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

    source unkown…often wrongly attributed to Hemingway

  27. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Are you asserting that cheating should be overlooked or ignored if you think it makes no difference in the outcome?

    No, I am not making any assertion like that.

    Rather, I am questioning whether an equipment infraction that does not modify performance, should be punished to the severity of an equipment infraction that does modify performance.

    What I do suggest is that the severity of his punishment has more to do with the Brady’s unwillingness to allow the NFL to invade his privacy.

    It was your assertion that:

    The odds are that he (Brady) would have been … less successful had the balls not been deflated …

    In reality, his performance improved significantly with the “regulation pressure” footballs.

  28. C. Clavin says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    I am questioning whether an equipment infraction that does not modify performance, should be punished to the severity of an equipment infraction that does modify performance.

    The entire point was to make the balls easier to throw and to catch in the rain. How does that not modify performance. There are myriad factors at play in a ball game. This is but one. Impossible to tell if it helped or not. Certainly the intent was to help.

  29. rodney dill says:

    @markm: So it’s sorta like I get caught running a red light. If it didn’t make any difference this time (i.e. cause an accident, or impede traffic the other way) I shouldn’t get penalized, or only in a very minor way.

  30. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    Rather, I am questioning whether an equipment infraction that does not modify performance, should be punished to the severity of an equipment infraction that does modify performance.

    I see – you aren’t condoning cheating so much as you are trying to rationalize it.

    Got it 😀

  31. J-Dub says:

    It’s just more evidence that the Pats can’t just line up and play football like real men. Brady is the biggest p***y in football and everyone knows it.

  32. JWH says:

    @Pinky: Do you know what the Washington Redskins have in common with a televangelist?

  33. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    I am neither condoning cheating nor rationalizing it.
    Both of those positions are assertive, and I am asserting nothing.
    I am just wondering about the proportionality where there is no evidence of performance enhancement.

    .

  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    To what end? One either cheats or one does not cheat. There is no in-between

  35. the Q says:

    “One either cheats or one does not cheat. There is no in-between”

    I think this was Jack’s point regarding Clapper’s testimony and perjury.

    But there is no proof Brady cheated. Show me where in the report it unequivocally states that.

    It doesn’t. I find it amusing you find Brady a cheater without hard evidence, yet defended Clapper because technically he wasn’t violating the law. I think Brady deserves that same consideration if you are going to be consistent.

  36. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @the Q:

    The team cheated. You win as a team and you lose as a team, ergo if any member of the team cheats, the entire team suffers the penalty.

  37. David in KC says:

    @rodney dill: There is a steroid joke in there someplace.

  38. markm says:

    @rodney

    I cannot equate running a red light to cheating in sports. Two different levels with many different tolerances and penalties. Remember when Conseco and Aguire were just CRANKIN’ the long ball?. The means of doing that was against the rules but it was accepted for a period of time.

    BTW….Tom’s agent said they will be appealing this and the NFLPA said they will do what they can to help.

    I believe there were at least two instances this year where players were outside the rules of the NFL (one was on film), were suspended and then on appeal had their suspension reduced…..no?.

  39. ernieyeball says:

    The players rightly complain about the injustice of the Commissioner having these powers. But they’re collectively bargained! They never fight for these issues, focusing only on the bottom line.

    Bottom line…Whew! I thought for a minute there that the players association was giving up their Dental Plan for a keg of beer!

    http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi2747727897

  40. rodney dill says:

    @markm: You don’t need to equate the two to see the analogy. There is a purpose and need for consequences for wrongdoing, even in situations where the results of the wrongdoing may be benign.

    There is room for the penalty to be reduced, but I wouldn’t expect it to go away.

  41. JWH says:

    Sigh. In case anybody’s wondering:

    Q. What do the Washington Redskins have in common with a televangelist?
    A. Both can make eighty thousand people stand up and yell “JESUS CHRIST!!” on a Sunday.

  42. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @rodney dill:

    There is a purpose and need for consequences for wrongdoing, even in situations where the results of the wrongdoing may be benign.

    Generally I’d agree with that, however the consequences (punishment) of the “wrongdoing” should be in proportion to the gravity of the offense. NFL layers are forbidden to wear a wristband that is any other color than black or white. So a player wears a beige wristband, so innocuous that it’s not even noticed by an on- field official, is that “cheating”?

    Or the player who wears an undergarment that has “Greatest Dad” written on it. While it is an equipment infraction, it is pretty benign in my opinion – hard to conceive how it could possibly impact game play.

    On the other hand, refusing to cooperate with an investigation into the lapse of security by the officials of the balls is a different matter. IMO, that reluctance on Brady’s part is a major factor in the punishment imposed.

  43. KM says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    NFL layers are forbidden to wear a wristband that is any other color than black or white. So a player wears a beige wristband, so innocuous that it’s not even noticed by an on- field official, is that “cheating”?

    Seriously?

    cheat
    CHēt verb
    gerund or present participle: cheating
    1. act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination. “she always cheats at cards”

    How in the hell is bringing up clothing violations as “cheating” examples supposed to work other then to point out how far you have to reach to try and justify this mess? There’s a lot of spinning, weaseling and deflecting on this when it comes down to a simple matter: was there an deliberate violation of the rules with the intent to gain an advantage? You don’t have to “understand” whatever logic they had while doing it or for it to even make sense, only know that there was purpose and motive to the actions.

    This is getting ridiculous. Instead of whining about it, why can’t Pats fan accept that maybe, just maybe, this is a bigger deal then they’d like to believe? And if the team really can’t do without him for 4 games, what the hell are y’all gonna do when he retires or is injured?

  44. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @KM:

    was there an deliberate violation of the rules with the intent to gain an advantage?

    Very well stated (actually asked). The Well’s report says ‘maybe’.

  45. Pinky says:

    @JWH: I would have gone with something about spending money and promising miracles.