NEW YORK — A federal appeals court on Monday ruled in favor of the NFL in the “Deflategate” case, reinstating New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s original four-game suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Two judges on the panel ruled in favor of the NFL, while one judge ruled for Brady.
Monday’s ruling reverses a federal judge, who had nullified Brady’s four-game suspension in September because of “several significant legal deficiencies” in how Goodell investigated accusations that footballs were below league-mandated minimum pressure levels at the AFC Championship Game in January 2015.
In Monday’s decision, the majority of the panel said it believed that Goodell “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.”
It’s not immediately clear what the NFL will do next. The league potentially could reinstate the suspension, but Goodell has not commented publicly on the case since before Super Bowl 50, and he would not say then whether the four-game ban would be imposed if the league wins on appeal.
“We are pleased the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 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 NFL said in a statement.
“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.”
In February, Goodell said he was “not going to speculate what we’re going to do depending on the outcome. We’ll let the outcome be dictated by the appeals court. When it happens, we’ll deal with it then.”
“The NFLPA is disappointed in the decision by the Second Circuit. We fought Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement.
“Our Union will carefully review the decision, consider all of our options and continue to fight for players’ rights and for the integrity of the game.”
In May 2015, the NFL imposed the suspension on Brady after an independent investigator found it “more probable than not” that the Patriots quarterback was involved with locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in a scheme to take air out of the footballs New England would use.
The presumed advantage of an underinflated football is that it is easier to catch.
The Patriots defeated the Colts, 45-7, and went on to win the Super Bowl that season. Brady has denied wrongdoing.
When the panel of judges grilled attorneys for Brady and the NFL in March, much of that focus was on his destroyed cellphone, which the NFL believed might have held evidence of a scheme to deflate footballs used in the AFC Championship Game.
In the original investigation, the NFL had asked to see the phone’s text messages but lacked subpoena power to force Brady to comply. In his report, the independent investigator hired by the NFL said that Brady, who answered questions over the course of one day, did not turn over personal information such as texts and emails.
According to the report, no one said Brady tampered with the footballs, but he was implicated in texts involving — and interviews with — McNally and Jastremski.
In July, when Goodell denied Brady’s appeal of the suspension, the league said that the athlete’s “deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence in his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs.”
Brady had said it was his practice to destroy his phone and SIM cards whenever he got a replacement phone.