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Don’t think for a minute we’ve seen the last of Goodell vs. Brady


The Sports Xchange

It took 20 pages of tortured explanations and footnotes for Roger Goodell to confirm what most of us already thought we knew: There was some funny business with the footballs in the AFC Championship Game and Tom Brady probably was involved.

That was good enough for Goodell to uphold Brady’s four-game suspension, but the next question and the real issue is this: Will it be good enough for a federal court?

Because, unless Brady suddenly throws in the towel, something he has shown no sign of doing, that’s where the next act of this soap opera will play out.

Put it another way. We all thought we knew O.J. killed Nicole. But it could not be proved.

Yeah, Brady suddenly was talking with and exchanging messages with a club functionary with whom he barely ever communicated. Yeah, he destroyed his cell phone with its 10,000 text messages. Yeah, he certainly acted like he had something to hide. His cooperation with the NFL’s investigation was tepid, at best, clearly not in keeping with either the spirit or the language of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement or its constitution.

All of that is well and good, and true. It all points to the likelihood of some degree of guilt and a guilty conscience.

But in all the Law & Order and Court TV episodes, can someone please explain when they saw jury instructions of “more probable than not” to find someone guilty? Didn’t think so.

At any rate, we are talking here about the result of this case, the end game, not the league’s rules and not what is right or wrong. And anyone who would bet on the NFL coming up a winner in a federal court case simply has not been paying attention for the last millennium.

When the NFL gets into court, history tells us suspensions get overturned and rules get thrown out. Sometimes the league doesn’t even need to be hauled into court; Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, threw out much of Goodell’s punishment as an appeal hearing officer in the Bountygate case.

Yet this time, Goodell insisted on deciding the Brady appeal himself, a rather clear conflict of interest that seems unlikely to survive an independent judicial review. Further, he delegated the initial punishment to another league office executive, Troy Vincent, which on its face appeared to be a clear violation of the CBA and calls for the commissioner to impose any discipline.

In his decision upholding Brady’s punishment, Goodell cites the act of James McNally, a Patriots employee, in taking the footballs from the officials’ locker room. We’d like to take that one step further with a question for Walt Anderson, the referee for that AFC Championship Game:

With all the pregame warnings and the attention being paid that day to the air in the balls, how in the world did he allow McNally to simply walk out of the officials’ locker room with the bag of balls?

Goodell’s decision merely says McNally took off with the balls “without the knowledge or approval” of Anderson or any other official. You mean none of those officials noticed a bag of footballs walking out the door? You mean given the close attention they were already supposedly paying to the balls, they didn’t notice? Why not?

If there is a glimmer of hope for Goodell and his approach in all this, it is that courts usually will defer to a union contract when discipline is imposed under that contract. Usually. But this one seems so far off the rails, and has so many other issues, deference to the CBA would be something of a surprise.

Now, back to that OJ reference. Remember how his trial turned on that glove, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”? Wouldn’t it be fun to watch Goodell or someone else take a dozen balls and deflate all of them in less than a minute and 40 seconds, the amount of time McNally was alone in a locked bathroom with the bag of balls before the AFC title game?

That, in case you are mathematically challenged, is barely eight seconds per ball. To deflate a dozen balls at that rate, well, it all sounds like a Charlie Chaplin skit out of an old silent movie. Come to think of it, that’s a rather appropriate analogy for the way Goodell metes out justice.

Get your lawyers ready. The fun is really just beginning.

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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