Roger Goodell is a Communist
by Logan Troy on Friday, April 29th, 2016
What costs $20 million and results in one of the highest courts in the United States granting a multi-millionaire absolute power over his employees? Deflategate. The prolonged saga over the alleged deflation of footballs by the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game two years ago seemingly came to an abrupt stop on Monday; although Tom Brady, Patriots’ quarterback and recipient of the contested four game suspension, may opt to appeal the court’s unfavorable two to one decision, chances of reversing it are slim. While Brady must now watch bitterly from home as his backup, young Jimmy Garoppolo, leads the team come fall, the precedent the court has set could have far greater ramifications.
The legal case, at its core, asked the judges to decide whether the players gave commissioner Roger Goodell incontestable power in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to determine guilt. The court’s decision made no comment on the level of Brady’s guilt, and therefore is not relevant to the debate around Brady’s legacy. The Players’ Association argued on Brady’s behalf that the CBA, which did indeed grant the commissioner broad discretion and the right to hear any appeal of his decisions, relied upon the expectation of due process and impartiality. The attorneys also persuaded Judge Berman, the first to hear the case, not only that the CBA implied these basic tenets, but also that Goodell violated the terms in “dispensing his own brand of industrial justice.”
The NFL immediately appealed the decision, but the court of appeals couldn’t hear the case until after the 2015 season, allowing Brady to temporarily continue to play. The new trio of judges held an unsympathetic hearing, yielding Monday’s two to one decision in favor of the league. Judge Parker wrote in the majority decision that “even if an arbitrator makes mistakes of fact or law,” no court can overrule the arbitrator so long as the decision falls “within the bounds of bargained-for authority.” This phrasing essentially guarantees most employers– including Goodell– unlimited power over employee punishment, regardless of factual, logical, or procedural errors. However, Chief Judge Katzman undermined this ruling with his dissenting statement that termed the suspension “unprecedented,” just as Judge Berman ruled.
Katzman’s position as chief of the 2nd district federal court could clinch Brady a remarkable fifth hearing, this time in the presence of all 22 judges on the circuit, but most legal analysts have called an overruling unlikely due to the infrequency with which courts overrule arbitrator’s decisions. Therefore, the burning question moving forward isn’t whether or not Brady will miss games — he undoubtedly will — but whether or not the entire debacle has irreparably tarnished his legacy. Put simply, no one really cares about the ruling anymore; everyone with any interest in the scandal made up his mind up long ago, and nothing will sway that impression of guilt. However, future generations of football fans will look back on Brady’s career with much more open minds. So the question really shifts from “does the potential deflation of footballs impact Brady’s stature as one of the greatest to ever play the game?” to “should it do so?”
Given the various maladies — including steroid use, rape allegations, dog fighting, sexual harassment suits, and participation in a “bounty” program that rewarded intentionally injuring other players — that have afflicted many of the other top quarterbacks of our time, it seems unlikely that an unconvincing conviction of possessing “general knowledge” of deflated footballs will haunt Brady in coming years. Even the often cited destruction of evidence in the form of his cell phone shouldn’t indicate guilt; Brady had no legal obligation to turn his personal life over to the league. Ultimately, despite the boos the crowd at Super Bowl 50 aimed at him, Brady will always remain popular and esteemed among knowledgeable football fans.
If the entire mess that has consumed sports media for the last two years doesn’t permanently hurt “Terrific Tom,” does it reflect unfavorably on Goodell? In one word, yes. In many words: the entire process, from the opening of an investigation to Goodell’s unsurprising verdict on the appeal, lacked any type of fairness; his unwillingness to excuse himself from the appealment of his personally motivated punishment was particularly egregious; the unwelcome and extended distraction that deflategate provided the league was exacerbated by Goodell’s insistence on vindicating his ruling after Judge Berman’s overruling. And, worst of all, the distraction erased everyone’s memory of time B.D. (Before Deflategate). The commissioner’s incompetent handling of Ray Rice’s, Greg Hardy’s, and many other domestic abuse cases was a major headline B.D. But as the headlines became air pressure related, public disgust with his seemingly uncaring stance on a serious national issue faded. Increasingly damning brain studies captured everyone’s attention B.D. with warnings of serious brain damage, such as CTE, which could lead to depression and suicide, but once PSI’s and pressure gauges captured the nation’s imagination, all serious consideration of the risks of the sport evaporated. Even the compelling storyline of Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player, and how he struggled to find a home in the league, dropped cold in its tracks once time shifted to A.D.
As entertaining and distracting as the epic has been, maybe fans outside New England will once again turn a critical eye towards the league’s controversial actions once the legal ordeal surrounding a crime that may or may not have even occurred is finished. Until then, those fans can continue reveling in the smear campaign against one of football’s all-time greats.
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