Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

With Tom Brady appealing his four-game Ballghazi suspension, Roger Goodell has the power to select who will hear that appeal. And he has three choices. He could pick one of his own employees; he could acquiesce to the union’s and Brady’s request that he choose an independent, third-party arbitrator; or he could just do it himself. He’s doing it himself.

“Commissioner Goodell will hear the appeal of Tom Brady’s suspension in accordance with the process agreed upon with the NFL Players Association in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement,” the league said in a statement.


It’s a right granted to the commissioner in the most recent CBA (a baffling concession, but we can’t know what the players received in return), and it centralized power in the hands of a man who may like power a little too much. Goodell hired his own investigator, let his own executive hand down the discipline, and will now sit in final judgment of Brady.

No wonder the union wanted to avoid this situation:

“Given the NFL’s history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal,” the NFLPA said in a statement yesterday announcing his appeal. “If Ted Wells and the NFL believe, as their public comments stated, that the evidence in their report is ‘direct’ and ‘inculpatory,’ then they should be confident enough to present their case before someone who is truly independent.”

That was a strong challenge, but ultimately meaningless. If Goodell is so set on punishing the Patriots and proving a point (either about “the integrity of the game” or about something more personal), what motivation is there for him to remove himself from being in position to enforce and ensure that punishment?

Goodell’s decision to overhear Brady’s appeal will anger the union, Patriots fans, and anyone who sees the absurdity of a commissioner empowered to be cop, prosecutor, judge, and jailer. But there was a non-zero chance that the Wells report, which found Brady “generally aware” of the deflation schemes, would be found seriously lacking by a third-party arbitrator. Goodell is so afraid of looking bad by having another suspension overturned, he’s willing to look bad by resorting to petty tyranny. At least it’s familiar ground.


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