NEW YORK: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must serve a four-game ban for his role in the “Deflategate” scandal, an appeals court ruled on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), delivering another twist in the long-running National Football League saga.
In a 2-1 ruling in the federal US Court of Appeals in New York, the court found that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had acted properly in issuing the sanction last year.
Brady had challenged the four-game suspension and won a legal victory in September when a lower court ruled in his favor, quashing the ban after judging the punishment to be unfair.
However the NFL appealed and scored a victory in Monday’s ruling, which found that Goodell’s judgment was in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, which sets out rules for settling disputes.
“We hold that the commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness,” the court ruled.
“Accordingly we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand with instructions to confirm the award.”
If the NFL chooses to impose the suspension at the start of the season, it will mean Brady misses the Patriots games against the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills.
Brady could in theory challenge Monday’s appeal court ruling to a higher court, but legal experts say his chances of success would be slim.
Air pressure furor
Brady, one of the highest-profile athletes in America and a record-equalling four-time winner of the Super Bowl, had been plunged into controversy following the Patriots blowout AFC Championship game victory over the Indianapolis Colts in 2015.
The Patriots were accused of deliberately manipulating the air pressure of balls used in the first half of that game, in order to make them easier to grip, grab and throw.
An inquiry by the NFL ruled that Brady was probably “generally aware” that Patriots staff had tampered with the balls and found him uncooperative when quizzed by investigators.
Goodell’s initial decision to impose a four-game ban however was sharply criticized by a lower court judge who ruled in Brady’s favor last September, allowing the 38-year-old to duck the suspension and play for the Patriots.
Judge Richard Berman ruled Goodell’s punishment had “several significant legal deficiencies” and accused the NFL commissioner of dispensing “his own brand of industrial justice.”
The saga has pitched the Brady, the Patriots and the NFL Players Association into open warfare with Goodell and the NFL.
The Patriots’ billionaire owner Robert Kraft had slammed Goodell’s handling of the investigation, stating that the Deflategate inquiry was “never about doing what was fair and just” and giving Brady his “unequivocal” support.”
The NFL meanwhile welcomed Monday’s vindication of Goodell.
“We are pleased (the court) ruled today that the Commissioner properly exercised his authority under the collective bargaining agreement to act in cases involving the integrity of the game,” the league said.
“That authority has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years.”
If Brady is forced to miss the first four games of the 2016 campaign, it could impact the Patriots choices in this week’s NFL draft, making it likelier that they opt to choose a back-up quarterback. AFP