This morning, Federal Judge Richard Berman made good on his courtroom observation that he didn’t think much of the NFL’s case against Tom Brady: he found that Commissioner Goodell’s arbitration decision with respect to Brady exceeded his authority, and vacated the decision in its entirety.
It is rare for judges to overturn the decisions of arbitrators. I have no opinion on whether Judge Berman’s decision will survive the appeal to the 2nd Circuit which the NFL has already announced. Judge Berman could not simply find that there was little or no evidence to support the sanction that the league imposed on Brady, which I suspect is what he thought. He grounded his decision on narrower grounds, in particular the finding that Brady was not given notice that a four-game suspension could be the penalty for being aware of deflating footballs or disposing of his cell phone:
This entire proceeding was odd. The Paul, Weiss firm was retained, ostensibly, to carry out a neutral investigation, but their report reads like a prosecutorial brief prepared by excellent lawyers on behalf of a client with a very weak case. Among other things, the report’s findings depend on assuming, for no particular reason, that the league’s official was wrong about which pressure gauge he used to test the balls prior to the AFC championship game. (No record was made about which of two gauges was used, or what the readings were.) Without that assumption, there is no evidence of deflation. Contrary to what you may have gleaned from press accounts, the many texts exchanged between McNally and Jastremski do not contain a single reference to deflating footballs. I don’t have any information beyond what is in the public domain, but if I had to guess, I would guess that no deflation took place. In any event, it certainly wasn’t proved.
As to Brady, the evidence is not just thin, but non-existent. The Wells report concluded, weakly, that Brady “more probably than not” was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski.” The report says: “[W]e believe it is unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady’s knowledge and approval.” Such speculation is not evidence. One could offer the same speculation about the offensive coordinator or the head coach, yet they are specifically exonerated by the Wells report.
Commissioner Goodell purported to base his discipline of Brady on the Wells report, but his finding is significantly upgraded from that report’s conclusion:
If you want to investigate the facts of “Deflategate” for yourself, my initial post on the controversy is here, with a link to the Wells report. This post links to and describes the report that the Patriots released in response to the Wells report. The Patriots’ response got virtually no publicity, but I found it devastating. Anyone who wants to express an opinion about the football inflation controversy needs to read, at a minimum, these two reports. As best I can tell, virtually no reporters have done so.
A final thought: reporting on this controversy has been skewed, I think, by the fact that so many influential sports writers are located in New York. For the most part, their coverage has been comically hostile to Brady, presumably because he and the Patriots have beaten their teams so many times over the years.