Roger Goodell upheld Patriots QB Tom Brady's four game suspension for his involvement in reducing the pressure of game-day footballs and subsequent failure to cooperate in the ensuing investigation. The NFL Players Association called the process a "sham" and the decision itself "outrageous," vowing to launch an appeal in court after the scathing decision was released earlier today by Commissioner Goodell.
Goodell wrote in his report, "Mr. Brady, through his attorneys, declined to provide the investigators with access to highly relevant electronic information, such as emails and text messages... He did so despite the very substantial protections offered by the investigators to maintain the privacy of his personal information." Four months after the initial request, Brady's attorneys admitted the phone had been destroyed on the day Mr. Wells had questioned him about the allegations.
Though the Patriots accepted their punishment without an appeal, the organization released this statement today: "We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady.... It is incomprehensible why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."
Where does Brady go from here? It is clear that Brady and the NFLPA intend to take the matter to federal court. Their main point of contention? Agent Don Yee said, "The Commissioner's decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history. His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis and it diminishes the integrity of the game."
The destruction of Brady's phone, however, could present legal problems for Team Brady. Technically, Brady engaged in spoliation of evidence. Parties cannot destroy evidence once it is known that another side has requested it in an investigation. The second risk for Brady is that legal action could open him up to bribery charges under 18 U.S.C. section 224. While the majority of bribery cases involve payments from a third party, legal precedent supports the idea that two or more employees within an organization can violate the statute by engaging in bribery activity, even if a non-employee is not involved. It does appear from text message exchanges between the two equipment managers that Brady was compensating them for deflating the footballs, which, in turn, compromised the integrity of a sporting contest. Brady could be in deep water on both of these counts.
If Brady does go to court, his chances are most favorable in Massachusetts or Minnesota. Action in federal court would likely be accompanies by an injunction to allow Brady to play while is appeal is being heard. That could place Brady on the field for the season opener against the Steelers even if his case is yet to be resolved.