News 26 April 2016

Tom Brady suspension restored in latest ‘deflategate’ twist

A United States Appeals Court has restored a four-game suspension on National Football League (NFL) player Tom Brady. In a decision published yesterday, the court reversed a September 2015 judgment of a US District Court which had overturned Brady’s original suspension, imposed by the NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell in May 2015.

In the most recent development, the Appeals Court said that Goodell had ‘properly? exercised his broad discretion’ in suspending Brady and that his ‘procedural rulings were properly grounded’ and ‘did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness’.

By contrast last year’s District Court judgment overturning Brady’s suspension, as reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, said that the NFL’s decision to suspend Brady suffered from ‘several significant legal deficiencies’. The Court said that Goodell went too far in his punishment of Brady, effectively dispensing ‘his own brand of industrial justice.’ The NFL appealed on 3 March 2016, and the Appeals Court issued its decision – the most recent development – on 25 April 2016.

Both the Appeals Court and the District Court made it clear in their contrasting rulings that they had jurisdiction only to review Goodell’s actions and whether he acted within the scope of his authority, not on the facts of the case and whether Brady had conspired to deflate footballs – allegations which Brady continues to deny.

The NFL originally suspended Brady, a four-time Super Bowl winner and star quarterback for the New England Patriots, for the first four games of the 2015 football season after a report commissioned by the NFL (the ‘Wells Report’) found that it was ‘more probable than not’ that Brady had conspired to deflate footballs in an AFC Championship Game. Deflated footballs are allegedly easier to grip and throw, therefore giving a quarterback an unfair advantage during a game.

The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a statement in response to the latest development saying that they were ‘disappointed’ in the decision and had fought Goodell’s suspension ‘because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement’.

Brady, as with every other NFL player, is covered by a collective bargaining labour agreement between the NFLPA and NFL team owners which classifies distribution of league revenues, sets health and safety standards and establishes player benefits. The agreement also sets out that the NFL Commissioner should ‘investigated possible rule violations, should impose sanctions, and may preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline’.

After Brady’s ban was overturned in September, the quarterback played the full season.

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