For the second time in less than a decade, the New England Patriots are being punished for breaking the rules.
In 2007, the team was fined $250,000 and docked a first-round draft pick for "Spygate," in which the Patriots were found to have videotaped an opposing team coach's signals, in violation of the rules. The Patriots' head coach, Bill Belichick, was fined $500,000.
And on Monday, the NFL came down on the team again, this time for intentionally deflating footballs for the AFC Championship game in January, in an incident that has come to be known as "Deflategate."
This time, the penalty is more severe, including a $1 million fine against the team, and the loss of the Patriots' 1st round pick in the 2016 draft and their 4th round pick in the 2017 draft.
But what has Patriots' fans most upset is that the team's star quarterback, Tom Brady, has been suspended for four games "for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL," according to a statement from the league. An investigation commissioned by the NFL found that Mr. Brady was "generally aware" of the release of air from the balls, and said that Brady did not cooperate with the inquiry by not making text messages he exchanged with clubhouse personnel available to investigators.
As one might expect, Twitter has been awash with outpouring from Patriots supporters and detractors alike:
I'm being very real. Prison for Brady or i boycott all things NFL. https://t.co/R7sR7bzAdX— Tom Crabtree (@itsCrab) May 12, 2015
In addition to changing their Twitter avatar, Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement saying that the team viewed the punishment as excessive.
Mr. Kraft originally said that the team would accept any punishment handed down by the league, but "[t]oday’s punishment," he wrote, "far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence."
Kraft added that Brady “has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered.”
For his part, Brady's agent, Don Yee, announced that the quarterback would appeal the league's decision.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King went as far as to say that Brady could theoretically take the matter to court.
According to Mr. King, there is still the possibility that Brady's appeal could be granted and his suspension is commuted or lifted entirely because of the lack of definitive proof that Brady ordered Patriots' employees to deflate the balls. But this appeal could hinge upon making Brady's testimony to the NFL's investigation available, which was omitted from the league's final report.
Kevin Kaduk at Yahoo! Sports suggested that, if Brady really wants to show up the league, now may be the time for him to retire. After all, with four Super Bowl wins, Brady has accomplished nearly everything the game has to offer.
Brady's suspension seems harsh compared to punishments handed down to other players. For instance, in 2008 former quarterback Brett Favre received no suspension for refusing to hand over his cell phone to league investigators after being involved in a sexual harassment case while with the New York Jets.
Other quarterbacks have discussed their personal preferences for footballs, such as Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers or former player Brad Johnson, who admitted to paying ball boys to scuff up footballs used in the 2003 Super Bowl against Oakland. Neither has come under investigation by the NFL.
Therefore, Brady may have some leverage to gain if he opted to walk away. It would make NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appear as though he chased one of the all-time great quarterbacks into retirement. As Yahoo! Sports' Kaduk wrote:
Quit and the irreplaceable Brady becomes a hero to all the NFL players who are consistently told they’re replaceable by the league and left vulnerable by the weakest of professional player unions.