Yesterday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league was going to uphold Tom Brady’s 4 game suspension, causing a huge uproar specifically among Patriot Nation. The announcement caused lots of discussion as it marks just another chapter in the DeflateGate scandal. Now, Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association will appeal Commissioner Goodell’s decision to uphold the DeflateGate suspension.
In a statement yesterday, the NFLPA laid out its case against the NFL:
The commissioner’s ruling today did nothing to address the legal deficiencies of due process. The NFL remains stuck with the following facts:
The NFL had no policy that applied to the players;
The NFL provided no notice of any such policy or potential discipline to players;
The NFL resorted to a nebulous standard of “general awareness” to predicate a legally unjustified punishment;
The NFL had no procedures in place until two days ago to test air pressure in footballs; and
The NFL violated the plain meaning of the collective bargaining agreement.
The fact that the NFL would resort to basing a suspension on a smoke screen of irrelevant text messages instead of admitting that they have all of the phone records they asked for is a new low, even for them, but it does nothing to correct their errors.
The NFLPA will appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.
In other words, the players union is arguing that the NFL misapplied its own policy. As written, the rules pertain to the handling of equipment apply to club officials and not players. Therefore, the NFL set a precedent when it punished Brady without any specific guidelines for how the situation should be treated.
Brady’s uphill legal battle against the NFL will include the attempt to obtain an injunction, which would prohibit the NFL from imposing any sort of punishment until a decision is reached in the court of law. The toughest obstacle for Brady will be demonstrating that he will be irreparably harmed if he sits for four games. On the backstretch of his career, Brady’s four missed games will certainly not hurt his body (but in fact help it with the rest) and should have zero effect on his future contractual negotiations. If the NFL’s final decision is vacated and Brady is paid the four paychecks for the four games on the bench then that would most likely be viewed as adequate compensation for the harm that was caused by the final decision.
Upon upholding their decision to suspend Brady for four games, the NFL filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court seeking to have the court confirm the arbitration decision. By filing in New York, the NFL will most likely have its case heard on its home turf in New York. There was discussion that Brady would potentially file his own action to vacate the four game suspension in Massachusetts (which is labor friendly and Patriots friendly) or Minnesota in front of Judge David Doty, who has traditionally ruled in favor of NFL players and its union on multiple occurrences (including Adrian Peterson’s case involving child abuse charges). Federal courts typically follow the first filed rule … meaning that if Brady wants to play ball, then it will be in NFL’s stadium in New York.
Perhaps the most newsworthy piece of information that came out of Goodell’s decision yesterday was that on March 6, 2015, the very day that Brady was interviewed by Mr. Ted Wells and his investigative team, Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone that he had been using since early November 2014 and included almost 10,000 text messages. At the time he arranged for the phone’s destruction, Brady was aware that Mr. Wells and his team had requested information from that cell phone in connection with their investigation. Thus the court could determine that Brady engaged in spoliation of evidence – that is he violated a duty to preserve evidence. Certainly, the act does not make Brady appear to have acted in good faith when he failed to hold on to highly relevant evidence. However, Brady vehemently denies this, as he reportedly received information that his phone was not necessary for the investigation.
Lastly, the Courts have a standard of not interfering with the decision when the two parties already have a binding arbitration process. “This decision is issued pursuant to Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, which confirms the Commissioner’s authority to impose discipline for conduct by a player that is ‘detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.’ … [The full decision] will constitute full, final, and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the players, Clubs, and the parties to this Agreement.” Therefore, as a member of the NFLPA, Brady will have a challenging time explaining why he agreed to be bound by a process that he later believed to be unjust.
However, if Brady is able to prove any of the following, then the final decision could be vacated by a federal court; (1) that the award was procured by corruption, fraud or undue means; (2) that there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrator; (3) that the arbitrator was guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of Brady was prejudiced; or (4) that the arbitrator exceeded his powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.
While, Brady and his legal team will most likely highlight the fact of impartiality in Commissioner Goodell’s ruling, Brady and the NFLPA agreed to a system that allowed for Commissioner Goodell to serve in the position of arbitrator. The course may very well come down to the Federal Court Judge’s view as to whether Commissioner Goodell’s level of impartiality interfered with the case in such a way to which he overstepped his jurisdiction as Commissioner of the NFL.