NEW YORK — A federal judge on Thursday vacated the four-game suspension the NFL imposed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the “deflategate” scandal.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman issued his ruling after the NFL, Brady and the NFL Players Association had failed to reach a settlement concerning the athlete’s suspension for allegedly using underinflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage.
RELATED: NFL Brady Ruling
But the legal battle might not be over.
Berman’s ruling can be appealed, and the losing side is expected to take its case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A stay of the decision also could be sought.
The controversy began when the Patriots were accused of using underinflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage in the Patriots’ AFC Championship Game win over the Indianapolis Colts in January. The Patriots won the game, 45-7, and went on to win the Super Bowl in a thrilling last-minute finish.
The NFL hired high-profile attorney Ted Wells to investigate. The Wells Report found that “it is more probable than not” that John Jastremski, the Patriots’ attendant for the game officials’ locker room, and equipment assistant Jim McNally deliberately deflated the balls after referees had inspected them.
“It also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls,” the report said.
The NFL punished Brady with a four-game suspension, but Brady denied involvement and appealed the decision. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspension, and both the NFL and the players association filed to have the suspension’s validity decided in federal court.
Berman said the NFL can’t suspend Brady for knowledge of a deflation scheme because the quarterback was not placed on proper notice that there could be a suspension for such conduct. Also, Berman said the NFL has never before suspended a player for obstructing a league investigation.
Berman said the NFL Players Association should have been allowed to call general counsel Jeff Pash to testify and the NFLPA should have had equal access Goodell to the files in the Ted Wells investigation.
An NFL investigation led to Brady’s suspension, which Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld.
The NFL said it will appeal the decision. Goodell said in a statement:
We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision. We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game. The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.
The Patriots open the season on Sept. 10 at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The NFLPA issued a statement in the wake of the ruling:
The rights of Tom Brady and of all NFL players under the collective bargaining agreement were affirmed today by a Federal Judge in a court of the NFL’s choosing,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. “We thank Judge Berman for his time, careful consideration of the issue and fair and just result.
“This decision should prove, once and for all, that our Collective Bargaining Agreement does not grant this Commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading. While the CBA grants the person who occupies the position of Commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position, the union did not agree to attempts to unfairly, illegally exercise that power, contrary to what the NFL has repeatedly and wrongfully claimed.
“We are happy for the victory of the rule of law for our players and our fans. This court’s decision to overturn the NFL Commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses. Collective bargaining is a much better process that will lead to far better results.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 3, 2015
— Rob Gronkowski (@RobGronkowski) September 3, 2015
Great to know that the right thing was done for Tom Brady. Now let's just play football
— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) September 3, 2015
not a patriots fan by any means but i agree with the ruling. just my thoughts
— Braylon Edwards (@OfficialBraylon) September 3, 2015