Tom Brady might serve his four-game suspension after all.
In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan on Monday reinstated the suspension of Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback. Their ruling overturned a lower-court decision that had voided the NFL’s suspension.
Brady’s lawyers had argued that he was unfairly suspended for his involvement in a scheme to deflate footballs used in a playoff game, and last summer, a U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman agreed, allowing Brady to play the entire 2015 season.
The NFL appealed that ruling to the 2nd Circuit, which heard oral arguments in early March. The judges were openly skeptical of many of the arguments made by Brady’s lawyer, signaling that they sided with the NFL’s case that Commissioner Roger Goodell had broad discretion to suspend players.
“We hold that the commissioner properly exercised this broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness,” judges Barrington Daniels Parker Jr. and Denny Chin wrote in their opinion. “Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remain with instructions to confirm the award.”
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann dissented.
Brady’s lawyers can still appeal the decision to the full 2nd Circuit, or even the Supreme Court. Legal experts say both attempts would be long shots.
The NFL’s decision to suspend one of their most popular and successful players for being “generally aware” of a plot to deflate footballs in the AFC Championship game in January 2015, has captivated the nation like few football stories. The saga, which is now into its second year, has raised fundamental questions about fairness on the field, how teams look for an edge and whether the commissioner, who views himself as a stern taskmaster, has overstepped his bounds.
Brady’s suspension has also polarized the league and union, which has been in a pitched battle with the commissioner over his decisions to suspend players for domestic violence and a host of other offenses.
On Jan. 18, 2015, the New England Patriots hammered the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, to advance to the Super Bowl. Shortly after the game, the NFL began investigating whether the Patriots had used deflated footballs to gain an unfair advantage. “It’s ridiculous,” quarterback Tom Brady said at the time. “That’s the last of my worries.”
The NFL released the results of its investigation last May, which stated that two low-level Patriots employees had knowingly deflated balls below the legal limit and that it was “more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”
A few days after the release of the report, the NFL suspended Brady for four games without pay.
But Berman overturned the suspension, saying that Brady had not been treated fairly and could not be suspended for deflating footballs because he had not been aware that such misconduct could lead to the kind of punishment he had received.