Football player Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for “Deflategate” was overturned by a judge Thursday in a big win for the New England Patriot quarterback.
The question of whether Mr. Brady knowingly deflated footballs before the American Football Conference Championship game, was kicked from the playing field to the courtroom when National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld what some critics said was an unfair punishment, angrily citing the destruction of Brady’s cell phone and its 10,000 text messages.
The NFL's Player’s Union countersued, said Brady did nothing wrong and asked the judge to nullify the suspension.
"We are happy for the victory of the rule of law for our players and our fans," DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a statement Thursday. He added that the collective bargaining agreement did not give Commissioner Goodell "the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading."
During the proceedings US District Judge Richard M. Berman knocked the commissioner for administering his “own brand of industrial justice."
In overturning Brady’s punishment, Mr. Berman said the legal foundation of the suspension was shaky.
The judge noted that the failure to notify Brady of potential penalties for breaking the rules and not cooperating with the investigation was a “significant” legal deficiency. Brady was also denied equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes, and didn't have a chance to examine one of two lead investigators, the judge said.
The ruling showed that Brady compared his case to the $50,000 fine given to retired player Brett Favre for not cooperating in his 2010 sexual harassment investigation.
"Brady also had no notice that his discipline would be the equivalent of the discipline imposed upon a player who used performance enhancing drugs," Judge Berman said.
A $3 million probe into the situation conducted by the NFL found that it was "more probable than not" that Patriot employees deliberately deflated footballs during January’s AFC Championship game, but the report found no direct evidence of Brady’s involvement in the action.
Brady, for his part has repeatedly denied any role in a plan to deflate footballs below the allowable limit and, with the judge’s decision, the reigning Super Bowl MVP can now start preparing for the Sept. 10 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Underscoring the importance of the return of Brady to the Patriots ahead of the upcoming season, the odds for the team to win the championship shot up in all the major Las Vegas sports books.
A tweet from the Patriots’ twitter account after the decision showed Brady jumping up and fist-pumping in celebration during this February’s Super Bowl.
Don’t expect the controversy to be over though. Goodell has vowed to appeal the judge’s decision, in order "to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game."
An appeal will take place in the U.S. Appeals Court, 2nd Circuit.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.