Judge Richard Berman has overturned Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his alleged role in deflating footballs to gain a competitive advantage in a scandal known as “Deflategate.”
Berman’s decision (PDF) is 40 pages long and lays out three main reasons why the NFL should not have suspended Brady for the deflated balls reported by the Colts after last season’s AFC Championship Game.
Let’s break them down one at a time:
1. The NFL didn’t adequately inform Brady of the potential punishment for his alleged misconduct.
Berman argued that Brady couldn’t have known that he could receive a four-game suspension for involvement with the allegedly tampered footballs, or that he could be suspended for not complying with the investigation.
The Court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs, and non-cooperation with the ensuing Investigation. Brady also had no notice that his discipline would be the equivalent of the discipline imposed upon a player who used performance enhancing drugs.
Importantly, Berman also shot down Goodell’s analogy comparing what Brady did to a player using PEDs and thus deserved a comparable suspension of four games:
The Court finds that no player alleged or found to have had a general awareness of the inappropriate ball deflation activities of others or who allegedly schemed with others to let air out of footballs in a championship game and also had not cooperated in an ensuing investigation, reasonably could be on notice that their discipline would (or should) be the same as applied to a player who violated the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.
2. Denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Jeff Pash.
Berman also took issue with the fact that Brady’s lawyers weren’t allowed to cross-examine a key NFL executive at Brady’s appeal hearing:
Given Mr. Pash’s very senior position in the NFL, his role as Executive Vice President and General Counsel, and his designation as co-lead investigator with Ted Wells, it is logical that he would have valuable insight into the course and outcome of the Investigation and into the drafting and content of the Wells Report.
Denied the opportunity to examine Pash at the arbitral hearing, Brady was prejudiced. He was foreclosed from exploring, among other things, whether the Pash Wells Investigation was truly “independent,” and how and why the NFL’s General Counsel came to edit a supposedly independent investigation report.
3. The NFL didn’t give Brady’s team enough time to examine the evidence.
Berman argued that it was unfair and unlawful to Brady and his team that the NFL didn’t promptly turn over the Wells Report documents:
The Court finds that Commissioner Goodell’s denial of the Players Association’s motion to produce the Paul, Weiss investigative files, including notes of witness interviews, for Brady’s use at the arbitral hearing was fundamentally unfair … and that Brady was prejudiced as a result.
All in all, Berman repeatedly lays into the NFL, Goodell, and their handling of Deflategate.
The NFL is expected to appeal the ruling.