Tom Brady’s a winner. You can glean that from that last-minute look on the face of cornerback Richard Sherman or by reading the scorching rebuke of the NFL by Judge Richard Berman.
But you mainly understand this merely by watching—and not necessarily on fall Sundays—Tom Brady. But the jaundiced perspective of 2015 America senses that people marry supermodel brides, live in mansions, and bedizen their fingers with Super Bowl rings by cheating. When “congratulations” yields to “no fair” one begins to understand just how much losing is winning.
Tom Brady, as he did on the field in his four Super Bowl victories, won fair and square in federal court on Thursday when Judge Richard Berman vacated the four-game suspension meted out by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell judged fair and square on appeal.
Berman focused on process in his ruling. But so many were the flaws in the NFL’s modus operandi that so much never made it past the cutting room floor in the judge’s chambers. From NFL vice president for game operations Mike Kensil shouting at the Patriots equipment manager (“We weighed the balls—you are in big f#*!ing trouble”—weighed?) at the AFC Championship Game to that same former New York Jets director of operations reportedly leaking erroneous information that all of the Patriots balls measured at two-pounds or more below the league limit (none did), the investigation smelled like a sting operation from its inception.
“So prior to this game, okay, had you ever heard of the Ideal Gas Law?” Brady lawyer Jeff Kessler asked the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “No, sir,” Troy Vincent answered. Vincent admitted that the NFL had not only never discussed the impact of weather conditions on the pressure of footballs, but that the league had never to his knowledge measured balls at halftime before the AFC Championship Game.
The Keystone Cops nature of the investigation glared most offensively in the Wells Report. Therein, Ted Wells concedes that the referee of the AFC Championship Game testified that he measured the Patriots balls before the game using a Wilson logo gauge, which would put the halftime readings of eight of the eleven Patriots balls at or above the levels expected if the team entered the contest with properly inflated balls, according to the scientists employed by the NFL investigator. So, Wells dismisses the recollection of a referee entering his twentieth NFL season and concludes: “Walt Anderson most likely used the Non-Logo Gauge to inspect the game balls prior to the game.”
At Brady’s appeal in the league office, Wells, touted repeatedly as “independent” by Commissioner Goodell, invoked attorney-client privilege a half-dozen times to avoid answering questions about the NFL’s investigation. “Mr. Wells just testified he was independent and the NFL was not his client,” Kessler pointed out. “Therefore, Mr. [Jeff] Pash’s communications with him could not be privileged under any possible application of the privilege, unless Mr. Wells wants to change his testimony and state that the NFL was his client in this matter, which would mean he is not independent.”
The refusal of Wells to turn over notes to Brady, the cross-examination of the quarterback at the league appeal by a Paul, Weiss law-firm colleague who helped write the Wells Report, the revelation that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash edited the final draft, and the league’s refusal to allow Pash to testify all spoke to the kangaroo-court quality of the proceedings, a point not lost on Judge Berman.
“The Court notes that the Paul, Weiss role in this case seems to have ‘changed’ from ‘independent’ investigators to NFL’s retained counsel at the arbitral hearing,” Judge Berman wrote on Thursday. “Among other things, this change in roles may have afforded Goodell (and Pash) greater access to valuable impressions, insights, and other investigative information which was not available to Brady.”
The irony of the league throwing a press-release fit over its top quarterback discarding his phone (when its lawyers repeatedly told him they didn’t want it) in a case ultimately decided on the league hiding witnesses and evidence seems not lost on Judge Berman. A month ago this column dubbed the NFL’s PR ruse a “Jedi mind trick.” Richard Berman judged it sufficient grounds to vacate the suspension.
Despite yesterday’s verdict, Tom Brady remains guilty of winning too many Super Bowls, possessing more money than he can possibly spend, coming home to a Victoria’s Secret model, and boasting a garage bigger than your house. That doesn’t make him guilty of deflating footballs.
For player-haters seeking social justice, the decision to allow a guy who earns and wins too much to emerge victorious again represents a terrible wrong. But karmic comeuppance that passes for social justice rarely works as actual justice.