WASHINGTON — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday upheld the four-game suspension handed to quarterback Tom Brady for his role in a scheme to deflate the footballs in the conference championship game that put the New England Patriots in the 2015 Super Bowl.
Goodell said he affirmed the suspension in the scandal known as “Deflategate,” in part because of fresh revelations made during Brady’s 10-hour appeal on June 23 at NFL headquarters in New York.
The commissioner said the league discovered that the quarterback, a four-time Super Bowl champion, had destroyed his cellphone weeks earlier even though he knew investigators had requested access to text messages stored on the device.
“Mr. Brady’s failure to cooperate and his destruction of potentially relevant evidence are significant because of the ability to conduct an investigation – whether by NFL staff or by independent parties retained by the NFL – ultimately depends on cooperation,” Goodell said in Tuesday’s ruling.
Brady, 37, one of the National Football League’s best known and highest paid players, could take the case to federal court in a bid to overturn to the suspension, as his attorneys have previously indicated he would. Brady and a representative of the Patriots could not immediately be reached for comment.
Goodell initially imposed the penalty on Brady in May after Ted Wells, an investigator hired by the league, delivered a 243-page report that said the quarterback was probably complicit in a plan to deflate the footballs below league standards.
Brady has denied any knowledge of a plan to deflate the footballs, a scheme carried out by two Patriots employees, according to Wells.
The flap, which called into question the integrity of the team destined to the Super Bowl, is the latest in a series of scandals that have roiled the NFL over the past year.
The league, the most lucrative U.S. sports enterprise, has been harshly criticized for the light sanctions handed to players who have been involved in incidents of domestic violence. A recent agreement with retired players over concussions could end up costing the NFL $1 billion.
EASIER TO GRIP
The under-inflated footballs were used by the Patriots in the AFC title game in January, when New England handily beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. The game was played in raw conditions that tend to make footballs more difficult to grip.
Wells said text messages between the two employees implicated Brady in the plan, and while the quarterback said he was not involved in the plot, he refused to relinquish his phone to investigators, citing privacy concerns. Goodell on Tuesday said that Brady had in fact destroyed the phone.
The four-game suspension handed to Brady for the upcoming season was meted out by the NFL’s vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, and approved by Goodell.
Goodell himself decided to hear the appeal, a move that has been derided by the NFL Players Association but within his rights as defined by the collective bargaining agreement.
Goodell also fined the Patriots $1 million for the team’s role in the “Deflategate” scandal, and ordered it to surrender two draft choices, including the team’s coveted No. 1 pick in 2016.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, one of Goodell’s biggest supporters, denied the team had any role in the scandal but decided not to appeal the penalty, saying the league must turn the chapter on the ordeal.
After beating the Colts in the AFC championship, the Patriots edged the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in the Super Bowl.
Scandal is not new to the Patriots, having been found in 2007 of illegally taping opposing coaches.
The league fined the Patriots $250,000, head coach Bill Belichick $500,000, and docked the team a first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.