Moving Targeter

In Roger Goodell vs. Tom Brady, it's new scandal, same result: discipline that feels arbitrary, scattered—and (very, very) vulnerable to an appeal
May 18, 2015

THE CONVICTION came on May 6. On Monday we got the sentencing. Sometime soon we'll get the appeal and maybe a court date or two. No matter where the path leads, the reputations of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will forever be damaged. And it will all be over footballs that didn't have quite enough air in them.

The NFL came down hard on the reigning Super Bowl MVP, suspending Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season. The league also fined the Patriots $1 million and took away their first-round pick in the '16 NFL draft and their fourth-rounder in '17. The steep punishment followed a 243-page report released last week by lawyer Ted Wells. The NFL hired Wells to probe the deflated-ball controversy that broke the day after New England's 45--7 win over the Colts in the AFC championship game. Wells concluded that it was "more probable than not" that Brady was "at least generally aware" that locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski had lowered the air pressure of game balls below the rulebook minimum (12.5 PSI) between the time they were checked by league officials and the opening kickoff.

Wells didn't find conclusive proof of Brady's involvement in wrongdoing—but he didn't need to. Under NFL rules, Wells only had to conclude it was "more probable than not" that Brady acted contrary to the rules.

The rule at issue with Brady is, in fact, relatively minor. The NFL Game Operations Manual stipulates that a violation of PSI regulations triggers a $25,000 fine. If balls being slightly underinflated provided as significant an advantage as the Patriots' hefty punishment would suggest, why wouldn't the NFL have assigned a higher penalty for the underlying offense?

Immediately after the ban was handed down, Brady's agent, Don Yee, said the quarterback will appeal, saying, "The NFL has ... [a] history of making poor disciplinary decisions that often are overturned when truly independent ... arbitrators preside."

That statement cut to the heart of Goodell's troubled commissionership. Discipline appears arbitrary, precedent is nonexistent, and justice feels more rooted in pubic opinion than legal underpinnings. In the Saints' 2011 Bountygate scandal, players and coaches were suspended for a year or more, even those who had no knowledge of the team's program of rewarding players who injured opponents. Ignorance of the law, the commissioner said, is no excuse. Yet Goodell's own predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, deemed some of the punishments too harsh.

In last year's Ray Rice scandal, after meeting with the running back and his fiancèe, Goodell imposed a two-game penalty for an incident of domestic violence. Public opinion deemed that too light, all the more so when video of the attack surfaced, and suddenly two games became an indefinite suspension. Last November a retired federal judge threw out that sanction and reinstated Rice.

After his arrest on child abuse charges last fall, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was placed on a commissioner's exempt list that no one knew existed and then went to court to get reinstated; a judge overturned his suspension, and in April, Peterson was reinstated by the league.

Brady will surely be the next to see his suspension cut down. Goodell or his designee will hear Brady's appeal and render one of three verdicts: overturn, reduce or sustain the suspension. The easy conspiracy theory: Goodell came down overly hard on Brady, knowing that on appeal the suspension would be cut at least in half. "If the hearing officer is completely independent," Yee said on Monday, "I am very confident the Wells Report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft blasted the team's punishment, saying it "far exceeded any reasonable expectation." Kraft may not be able to fight it. The NFL constitution describes team punishments as "final, conclusive and unappealable." It also makes clear teams can't take their grievances to court. So don't expect Kraft to borrow a page out of the legal playbook of Al Davis.

But if his appeal fails, Brady could turn to the courts. After Bountygate, the Saints' Jonathan Vilma sued Goodell for defamation. The lawsuit didn't succeed, but it may have helped Vilma get his suspension overturned. What lies ahead will not be good for anyone. The person who might look the worst, however, is Goodell. His next great fight could deflate both his and Brady's legacies. The quarterback could have warned Goodell in advance. Overinflate something too much and you risk losing your grip.

Yee said the NFL's disciplinary decisions are often overturned, and he's right. Precedent is not the commissioner's friend.

MLB First Trippers

20

Go Figure

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SI Edge Shop to Win

24

Faces in the Crowd

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The Case for

Tyler Johnson

28

Dan Patrick

Shaq

30

Homer Odyssey

ON MAY 7, 1922, Pirates outfielder Walter Mueller did something unprecedented: He homered on the first major league pitch he ever saw. On May 6, one day short of 93 years later, Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario became the 29th player to achieve the feat. Rosario surely hopes that's where the similarities end with Mueller, who went deep only once again. Below are the members of that rare fraternity and how many times they homered. (Asterisk denotes active player; totals through Sunday.)

[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

† Bill LeFebvre, Tommy Milone*, Eddie Morgan, Eddie Rosario*, Don Rose, Mark Saccomanno, Gene Stechschulte, Esteban Yan

210

195

180

165

150

135

120

105

90

75

60

45

30

15

0

1

2

3

3

4

6

12

14

21

23

32

34

35

37

38

55

69

74

79

87

115

195

PLAYERS WITH 1 CAREER HR†

Walter Mueller

Clise Dudley

Jay Gainer

Jim Bullinger

Adam Wainwright*

George Vico

Andy Phillips

Chuck Tanner

Daniel Nava*

Kaz Matsui

Chris Richard

Al Woods

Starling Marte

Brant Alyea

Junior Felix

Clyde Vollmer

J.P. Arencibia*

Bert Campaneris

Kevin Kouzmanoff

Marcus Thames

Jay Bell

PHOTOPATRICK SEMANSKY/AP CHART

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)