The New England Patriots and Tom Brady have signalled their intention to contest the National Football League’s (NFL) decision to issue a record-equalling fine to the team and a four-game suspension to its superstar quarterback over the ‘deflategate’ scandal.
The NFL yesterday (Monday) imposed the sanctions for violations of the Policy on Integrity of the Game and Enforcement of Competitive Rules relating to the use of under-inflated footballs in the 2014-15 AFC Championship game. For the violation of the playing rules and the failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation, the Patriots have been fined $1m (€898,000) and will forfeit the club’s first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and the club’s fourth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Brady has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 regular season for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL”. NFL executive vice-president of football operations Troy Vincent has also indefinitely suspended the Patriots’ two equipment staff who conducted the plan.
In letters to the team and Brady, Vincent said that the NFL’s investigation found “substantial and credible evidence” that the quarterback knew the employees were deflating footballs, adding that he failed to cooperate with investigators. The investigation led by attorney Ted Wells found that Brady “was at least generally aware” of plans by two Patriots employees to prepare the balls to his preference, below the league-stipulated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.
Vincent said: “Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public's confidence in the game is called into question.”
The game in question under the investigation, the 2014-15 AFC Championship encounter on January 18, saw the Patriots rout the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 on home soil at Gillette Stadium to advance to the Super Bowl. The Patriots then defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to claim the Super Bowl XLIX title.
The fine issued to the Patriots equals the amount the league ordered San Francisco 49ers owner Edward Debartolo, Jr. to pay in 1999 after he pleaded guilty to a felony for his role in a Louisiana gambling scandal. Having initially signalled his intention to accept punishment imposed by the NFL, Patriots chairman and chief executive Robert Kraft has hit out at the discipline levied against the team and Brady.
“Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league,” Kraft said. “Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.
“We recognise our fans’ concerns regarding the NFL’s penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report. Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered.”
Brady is set to miss games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. Ironically, he is scheduled to return against the Colts on October 18 and his agent, Don Yee, has said the three-day window in which to appeal the ban is set to be taken up.
“The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis,” Yee said. “The NFL has a well-documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions that often are overturned when truly independent and neutral judges or arbitrators preside. Sadly, today's decision diminishes the NFL as it tells its fans, players and coaches that the games on the field don't count as much as the games played on Park Avenue.”