Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC championship game has been upheld by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The league announced the decision Tuesday, with Goodell saying that the New England quarterback told an assistant to destroy Brady's cellphone on or just before March 6. Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells on that day.
"He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone," Goodell said in his decision.
"During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device."
The text messages were critical to Wells' investigation because they could have shown details of Brady's messages with equipment managers blamed for deflating footballs.
Wells' investigation had no subpoena power and Brady was under no legal obligation to cooperate.
The four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was suspended by NFL executive Troy Vincent in May following the Wells report. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked a pair of draft picks. The team didn't appeal its penalty, but Brady and his lawyers made their case during a 10-hour appeal hearing on June 23.
The NFL Players Association has previously said it would challenge the decision in court if Brady's suspension wasn't erased. The union said Tuesday afternoon it would have a statement later in the day. The Patriots said they had no comment on the decision.
Moments after announcing Goodell's decision, the league filed action in U.S. District Court in New York against the union, saying the NFL commissioner has the right under the labor agreement to hand out such discipline "for conduct that he determines is detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football."
Brady and the Patriots have denied knowingly using deflated footballs in the AFC title game win over Indianapolis. The Patriots went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl and Brady was the MVP.
Goodell's statement Tuesday saidy:
"In short, the available electronic evidence, coupled with information compiled in the investigators' interviews, leads me to conclude that Mr. Brady knew about, approved of, consented to, and provided inducements and rewards in support of a scheme by which, with Mr. Jastremski's support, Mr. McNally tampered with the game balls."
"Mr. Brady's affirmative action to ensure that this information would not be available leads me to conclude that he was attempting to conceal evidence of his personal involvement in the tampering scheme, just as he concealed for months the fact that he had destroyed the cellphone requested by investigators."
The NFL announced in late January that Wells would head an investigation into New England's use of underinflated balls against the Colts. More than three months later, the 243-page Wells report was issued, saying it was "more probable than not" that Brady was "at least generally aware" that footballs he used were improperly deflated by team personnel.
Brady appealed and the union asked Goodell to recuse himself from hearing the appeal because he could not be impartial and might be called as a witness. But Goodell said it was his responsibility to oversee the hearing to protect the integrity of the league.
Scientific arguments were a major part of Brady's defense. Brady's lawyers tried to shoot down the findings of an independent firm hired to provide scientific analysis of the air pressure inside the footballs used by the Patriots and Colts.
Brady, who turns 38 on Aug. 3, took nearly every snap last season. But he'll miss the first four games this season unless the case goes to court. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick in 2014, would replace Brady, the two-time NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP.
New England hosts Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 to open the regular season. It then goes to Buffalo, hosts Jacksonville, has a bye, and is at Dallas in the last game of Brady's suspension. Brady would return against, yes, the Colts on Oct. 18 in Indianapolis.