Tom Brady will have his day in court -- well, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's court, anyway -- after following through on a vow to appeal his four-game suspension. The Patriots' four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback was hit with the stiff sanction on Monday, less than a week after a 243-page report by attorney Ted Wells concluded that Brady was "at least generally aware" the Patriots used underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game, and potentially other games as well.
Brady's appeal was filed by the NFL Players Association. Former NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who has been at the forefront of several important cases challenging the league, will handle the appeal.
NFL executive Brian McCarthy confirmed to Newsday Thursday night that Goodell himself will handle the proceedings. Goodell is empowered by the league's collective bargaining agreement to handle all appeals, but he has handed off several appeals in recent months, including cases involving former Ravens running back Ray Rice, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy.
"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," McCarthy said.
In a brief statement accompanying its announcement of filing the appeal, the NFLPA asked for it to be decided by neutral arbitration.
"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 statement said. "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."
Wells said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday that he believes there was sufficient evidence gathered in his investigation to indicate Brady knew that Patriots locker room attendants Jim McNally and John Jastremski purposely deflated footballs used in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18 against the Colts to levels not permitted by the NFL.
If Brady's suspension is upheld, he would return on Oct. 18 to face the Colts in Indianapolis.
In addition to Brady's suspension, the Patriots were fined $1 million and were ordered to surrender their first-round draft pick in 2016 and their fourth-round pick in 2017.
A few hours before Brady's appeal was filed, the Patriots released a rebuttal letter to the Wells report in which one of the team's attorneys, Daniel Goldberg, expressed several reservations about the report's conclusions.
Responding to Wells' assertion that McNally referred to himself in text messages with Jastremski as "the deflator" and thus raised the possibility of his involvement in deflating footballs, Goldberg suggested that the term referred to McNally's weight.
Goldberg wrote that Wells' team of investigators "would have learned from either gentleman one of the ways they used the deflation/deflator term. Deflate was a term they used to refer to losing weight."
Goldberg went on to write that "the conclusions of the Wells Report are, at best, incomplete, incorrect and lack context."
Wells' report raised a red flag about McNally's use of a bathroom at Gillette Stadium shortly before the start of the AFC title game. According to Wells, McNally went into a bathroom with the footballs that already had been approved by referee Walt Anderson. Wells said McNally spent nearly two minutes in the bathroom before coming out.
Goldberg wrote, "The report does not address whether one minute and 40 is consistent with the time that it takes a gentleman to enter a bathroom, relieve himself, wash his hands, and leave. In fact, it is."
The report quoted an analysis by Dr. Roderick MacKinnon, a professor at Rockefeller University in New York City and a past winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, that challenged the conclusion raised in the Wells report that environmental and physical factors alone could not fully explain why the Patriots' footballs were deflated to impermissible levels when measured at halftime.
And the Patriots' rebuttal included a passage, in capital letters, that read, "NOT A SINGLE TEXT REFERS TO DEFLATING FOOTBALLS TO A LEVEL BELOW REGULATION, TO DEFLATING FOOTBALLS AFTER THE REFEREE'S INSPECTION, OR TO ANY DIRECTIONS FROM MR. BRADY -- OR EVEN ANY BELIEF THAT TOM BRADY WOULD PREFER TO USE BELOW REGULATION FOOTBALLS."
The rebuttal does address why the team issued indefinite suspensions to both McNally and Jastremski on May 6, shortly after the Wells report was made public. Neither McNally nor Jastremski has commented publicly about their alleged roles in the deflation of footballs.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank, whose team recently was sanctioned for illegally piping in crowd noise during home games, suggested the harsh penalties handed down to the Patriots were at least partly the result of the team's unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes relating to the deflated footballs.
"The league feels a tremendous sense of responsibility, as do all the owners, in reinforcing the culture of the NFL, the shield and make sure the game remains as balanced and as pure and as true to its integrity and its ethics as can be done," Blank said on Thursday at an event benefiting Habitat For Humanity. "When they find any organization or any individual has gotten off those tracks it's their job to remind them of that and bring them back on the tracks and do it in a way that really reinforces what the league is about. I think in the case of New England they have done that."