After judge Richard Berman shocked the NFL world and overturned Tom Brady’s suspension, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement addressing the decision.
Kraft used the statement to reiterate his support for Brady and once again point out that Brady was punished without any definitive proof of being involved in a conspiracy to deflate footballs prior to the AFC Championship game.
However, Kraft also quietly slipped in one comment that appears to be an attempt to deflect blame away from commissioner Roger Goodell, something that could go a long way toward mending their relationship. Rather than point the finger at Goodell for the suspension of Brady, Kraft blames the NFL’s lawyers.
“Yet, with absolutely no evidence of any actions of wrongdoing by Tom [Brady] in the Wells report, the lawyers at the league still insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted and unprecedented discipline.”
Nowhere in the entire statement does Kraft mention Goodell by name or title even though it was Goodell who handed down the punishment and ruled on the failed appeal.
This is significant because prior to Deflategate, Kraft had been very important to the commissioner’s position atop the most powerful sports league in the world.
In a story for GQ magazine prior to the Super Bowl, Gabriel Sherman outlines just how close Goodell and Kraft had been, and how it was Kraft who backed Goodell during the uproar over how the league handled the Ray Rice domestic-assault scandal. According to the story, when the Rice case began to spin out of control, it was Kraft who arranged for Goodell to do his first on-air interview, on CBS with a woman as the interviewer. It was also Kraft who lobbied other owners to publicly support Goodell.
Goodell and Kraft were so close that at least one NFL executive refers to Kraft as “the assistant commissioner.”
Kraft was also the owner who “vigorously defended” Goodell’s $44 million salary.
The Brady ruling is a disaster for the NFL, but the league will survive. However, if Goodell is going to remain the commissioner, he may need the support of Kraft. It looks like he just got it.
Here is the entire statement:
“As I have said during this process and throughout his Patriots career, Tom Brady is a classy person of the highest integrity. He represents everything that is great about this game and this league. Yet, with absolutely no evidence of any actions of wrongdoing by Tom in the Wells report, the lawyers at the league still insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted and unprecedented discipline. Judge Richard Berman understood this and we are greatly appreciative of his thoughtful decision that was delivered today. Now, we can return our focus to the game on the field.”