News 27th October 2015

NFL files papers for appeal of overturned Brady suspension

The National Football League (NFL) has filed the official brief for an appeal of a US District Judge’s decision to overturn a four-game suspension of footballer Tom Brady by the NFL’s Commissioner Roger Goodell. In a 59-page ‘Brief for Appellants’, published by the US broadcaster NBC, the NFL has outlined its case in an appeal of the overturned suspension to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Last month the federal appeals court granted a request by the NFL and NFL Players Association for an expedited appeal and its argument schedule. The court order stated that the ‘appeal shall be heard as early as the week of February 1, 2016, subject to the approval of the presiding judge.’

In its subsequent appeals brief, submitted yesterday on the deadline set by the court, the NFL wrote that its Commissioner, in suspending Brady, had ‘acted well within the bounds of discretion expressly granted by the CBA [the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association].’

However, the NFL accused the overturning of this suspension by the District Court as a move that ‘vastly exceeded the narrow bounds of judicial review allowed under the Labor Management Relations Act and decades of precedent.’ The NFL summarised its actions by simply stating that the ‘district court’s decision cannot stand.’

In the brief, the NFL claims that Goodell acted ‘reasonably’ after authorising an ‘exhaustive investigation’ into allegations that Brady had had participated in a scheme to deflate game balls, thereby giving him an unfair competitive advantage. The brief also alleges that the District Court disregarded the authority of the NFL’s Commissioner under the CBA, citing ‘long-established standards’ and precedents in which courts have been ‘skeptical of efforts to collaterally attack decisions that a CBA leaves to arbitration.’

As reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative, Brady originally appealed the NFL’s original suspension imposed on him by the NFL in May this year. However the NFL, after a hearing which lasted more than ten hours on 23 June, decided to uphold their original decision. In a statement in July, Goodell said that important new information had been disclosed by Brady and his representatives in connection with the appeal hearing. This, the Commissioner said, had led him to conclude that ‘Brady was aware of, and took steps to support‎, the actions of other team employees to deflate game footballs below the levels called for by the NFL’s Official Playing Rules.’ Brady and his team, the New England Patriots, both confirmed their ‘disappointment’ at the decision at the time and the NFL Players’ Association said that it would ‘appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.’ This it subsequently did, and the suspension was duly overturned.

Alongside Brady’s suspension, the Patriots, for the ‘violation of the playing rules and the failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation’, were fined $1 million and ordered to forfeit the club’s first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and fourth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Robert Kraft, the Patriots’ owner, said in May that he would not dispute these sanctions; the Patriots further fired two backroom employees whom the NFL implicated in the deflation of the game balls.

Brady’s answering brief to the NFL’s appeal is due on 7 December, and the NFL’s reply brief is due on 21 December. According to the NBC, ‘Brady is having one of his best seasons to date’ and the New England Patriots have won their first six games of the season. The NFL’s Super Bowl is scheduled for 7 February 2016, and with the appeal set to be heard in the week before could ‘generate headlines just days before the NFL’s premier event’, according to Reuters, especially if the Patriots are playing. However it is reportedly ‘ unlikely the court would make an immediate ruling’, which may avoid some of the furore.

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