The NFL has sent a message to Tom Brady and the New England franchise in their response to Deflate-Gate. Although this punishment will not greatly affect the legacy of Tom Brady, this adds to the numerous scandals of the New England Patriots under Owner Robert Kraft and Head Coach Bill Belichick.
The NFL viewed Brady’s actions as arrogance, and I know the league office saw the deflating of the footballs as the mechanical equivalent of using PEDs. That is not such a ridiculous comparison. PEDs destroy the competitive balance of the game and so, too, can altering the equipment.
This ruling—Brady suspended four games, the Patriots fined $1 million and the team losing a first-round pick next season and a fourth-rounder in 2017—has many layers. The NFL clearly decided that Spygate, the team’s last cheating scandal, was part of the equation.
Also, we can look at this decision as part-political. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needed to satisfy 31 other owners, head coaches, and general managers who most likely believe that Goodell and Kraft were too close and that the NFL overlooked the Patriots’ alleged cheating for too long.
Ryan Clark spoke for most of those other 31 teams when he said, “There was a feeling around the league…that the New England Patriots will bend the rules, they will try to find ways to win games that may border on cheating.”
But what this ruling is mostly about is Brady and the future of the sport. The NFL, in the past, has gotten decisions wrong. Ray Rice was originally suspended for two games for knocking out his fiancee. They will tell you that was a mistake (and Goodell has said it publicly).
Those times of easy punishments are over. That’s the message. It’s a new day because the league knows what’s at stake here. The game can’t be viewed as wrestling. Whether players pump up their bodies with fake drugs or deflate a football, the NFL knows the core of what made it the biggest sport in America is believability.
The difference between those teams and the Patriots is prior history. Spygate is a part of this. Those other teams don’t have a major scandal on their record. The warming of the footballs also happened in broad daylight, and when they were caught, the teams didn’t pull a Brady. When Brady was busted, he basically said, “Me? Cheat? What?”
There’s a chance Brady’s suspension is reduced to two games, but the message was still sent. You are great, Brady, but you are not above everyone else.
You’re not bigger than the league.