The NFL and New England Patriots find themselves in a messy dispute that has the potential to irreparably damage the league. The NFL levied a harsh punishment upon Tom Brady and the Patriots based upon middling evidence, and are basically making up league rules on the fly. Meanwhile, Tom Brady’s appeal claims that his suspension violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft won’t rule out suing the NFL.
Roger Goodell and the NFL screw-up quite a bit, especially in regards to punishment, but rarely is it possible for those screw-ups to damage the league in a lasting way. But if Brady and Kraft refuse to accept their punishments and fight them as long as possible, the NFL’s law-and-order apparatus—the raison d’être for Roger Goodell’s existence—is in trouble. And for their part, Kraft and the Patriots have lost the previously enjoyed most favored nation status with Goodell, and their public response showed them to be absolutely unhinged.
With the principals involved already having suffered damage, and the potential for more coming down the pipeline, it is unsurprising to learn, via Adam Schefter, that the Pats and NFL have had “back-channel conversations” in an attempt to avoid appeals and litigation. It is also unsurprising that Schefter or his sources are using language usually reserved for missions to rescue political prisoners from North Korean jails or something: the NFL always has thought way too highly of itself.
The Roger Goodell critic in me, as well as someone who subscribes to Dan Le Batard’s philosophy that “I always like a little anarchy inside the cathedral we’ve made of sports,” hopes this effort at heading off confrontation fails. I want to watch Roger Goodell farcically deny Tom Brady’s appeal of a punishment decided upon by Roger Goodell. I want to see what other convoluted explanations Brady, the Patriots, and their lawyers can come up with.
But most of all I want somebody to go all the way and sue the NFL. I want to see what comes up during the discovery phase of a trial, and I want to see what an actual judge has to say about which powers Goodell is granted by the CBA. As long as disciplinary processes remain within the NFL’s apparatus, Roger Goodell is judge, jury, and executioner. But in a courtroom he’s just a rich guy with highly-paid lawyers facing another rich guy with highly-paid lawyers. In a courtroom there exists the possibility that he will lose.