“I was wrong to put my faith in the league,” he said.
The barrage by Kraft and Brady will have little to no effect on the outcome of the case, with the matter now headed to a courtroom clash between the league and the NFL Players Association as Brady seeks to have the suspension overturned.
The NFLPA officially filed a lawsuit on Brady’s behalf Wednesday in federal court in Minnesota to vacate the suspension.
Kraft’s and Brady’s remarks could intensify the already spirited public debate among fans and media members as they sort through the divisive issues of whether the Patriots knowingly violated the sport’s competitive rules and whether Goodell and the league handed out appropriate punishments.
But will it matter to those who employ Goodell, the owners of the 32 NFL franchises, Robert Kraft among them?
Kraft is a respected and influential owner. He clearly is angry in the wake of this disciplinary process. If that someday translates into him attempting to oust Goodell, with whom he has had a close relationship in the past, or trying to restrict the commissioner’s powers, he probably could enlist the support of some allies within the ownership ranks.
But there is strong support among many of the owners for what Goodell did by sticking to the original penalty levied at Brady and by avoiding, in that majority’s view, showing leniency and favoritism to Kraft and the Patriots. The league treated the Patriots as repeat offenders under the competitive rules after the earlier Spygate scandal. Now it is headed to court as an adversary of one of its biggest stars, a four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Several owners contacted Wednesday steered clear of the matter, not wanting to weigh in on an issue with Kraft on one side and Goodell on the other. Some cited the pending litigation. But last week, a high-ranking official with one NFL team said of Goodell’s decision on the appeal: “I think he has to stay with the same thing.”
That high-ranking official acknowledged the anti-Patriots sentiment by some owners but said others merely wanted to see Goodell project strength.
“I think other owners are concerned about what this means to the commissioner’s credibility,” the official said then. “Do they care if it’s four games or two games or one game? I’m not sure they do. But they would like to see the commissioner emerge from it credible and looking like he’s dealing from a position of strength. I’m sure there are some [owners] who are anti-Patriots and jealous of their success. And then there are those who have to play them in the first four games.”
That sentiment hasn’t changed merely because of what Kraft and Brady said Wednesday.
David Cornwell, an attorney who has represented players in a variety of legal cases and a former candidate for executive director of the union, said he does not foresee any problems for Goodell with internal ownership politics. The troublesome issue for the league, according to Cornwell, is the tarnishing of Goodell’s public image while the NFL attempts to boost revenues from about $9 billion per year to more than $20 billion annually in the coming years.
“The commissioner will be fine,” Cornwell said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “He’s the commissioner for a reason. He has the temperament, knowledge, experience and touch to deal with these situations and protect the integrity of the NFL. But I’m concerned about the larger picture. I don’t think it’s appropriate to question the integrity of the people in the league office when they’re doing their job. It’s particularly destructive at a time when the effort is being made to grow this entire thing and make it better and make it bigger.”
This is the latest confrontation between the league and the union after they clashed previously on the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson suspensions. The league’s handling of those cases put Goodell and the NFL under intense scrutiny last year. The owners remained supportive of Goodell then, leaving open the possibility of firing him only if it were to be demonstrated that Goodell had acted improperly by participating in a cover-up. That never materialized. Similarly, even a courtroom victory by Brady and the union would seem unlikely to affect Goodell’s support among the owners.
“The Players Association has turned its attention to picking these fights with the league,” Cornwell said. “It’s particularly harmful when it comes to integrity-of-the-game issues. The commissioner didn’t do this to go out of his way to punish Tom Brady. He did it to protect the integrity of the game and the confidence that everyone, everywhere has in the product that is put on the field. The strategy of demonizing the commissioner undermines the very thing that you’re trying to accomplish in growing the game and benefitting everyone in it. I think it’s a problem.”
Kraft and Brady certainly believe there is a problem. But the problem they see is a different one.
Kraft earlier decided against appealing the Patriots’ $1 million fine and loss of a pair of draft choices in their DeflateGate punishment by the league.
“I have come to the conclusion that this was never about doing what was fair and just,” Kraft said Wednesday. “Back in May, I had to make a difficult decision that I now regret. I tried to do what I thought was right. I chose not to take legal action.”
Kraft called it “completely incomprehensible to me that the league continues to take steps to disparage one of its all-time great players and a man for whom I have the utmost respect.”
Brady wrote on Facebook that he was “very disappointed” by Goodell’s ruling, and added: “I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either.”
Brady also wrote of Tuesday’s disclosure by the NFL that the quarterback directed that his cell phone be destroyed shortly before he met with the league’s investigators: “To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong.”
Some just looked at everything and wondered why those in the sport can’t get along.
Louis Riddick, a former NFL player, scout and front office executive who now is an analyst for ESPN, wrote on Twitter that the NFL “is a relationship business, and there are some relationships that are being destroyed over the inflation of freakin’ footballs!!!”