The NFL really is a treat, isn’t it?
A four-game suspension, a $1 million fine and the loss of two future draft picks, including a first-rounder, for letting a little air out of a football?
The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell dropped the hammer on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Monday in a manner that smells of overreaction, in part, because of how poorly the league handled previous cases of, um, actual criminal wrongdoing.
Ray Rice initially received a two-game suspension for punching out his fiancée, but Brady gets four games for instructing a couple of low-level employees to let some air of the footballs to make them easier to grip and throw.
Yep, makes perfect sense.
That doesn’t mean some form of punishment wasn’t warranted in this case. It’s just that so many despicable things have rocked the NFL in recent years that our perspective, at least mine anyway, tends to be viewed through that prism.
The league’s investigation couched its “Deflategate” findings by stating that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots purposely used deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game, a 45-7 crushing of the Indianapolis Colts.
The NFL was never going to uncover concrete proof that Brady ordered the Code Red without his own admission or willingness to turn over his cellphone and text messages, which, it should be noted, he wasn’t legally required to do.
So Goodell puffed out his chest and let Brady, coach Bill Belichick, owner Robert Kraft and everyone else know he’s still the football czar.
Goodell lowered the boom in this case because he wanted to remove any doubt about whether he had the backbone to punish the league’s brightest of stars and a professional crony in Kraft.
The guess here is that Goodell ruled with an especially heavy hand because he was peeved the Patriots didn’t blurt out, “OK, enough already, you caught us.”
The punishment doesn’t fit the misdeed, though.
Let’s be clear on this important point: Tom Brady absolutely deserved to be punished. He didn’t deserve to skate for his apparent role in the subterfuge, even if that act had no real influence on the outcome of the game.
The fact that the Patriots could have dominated the Colts using Nerf footballs remains meaningless in this discussion.
Any person can read the damning circumstantial evidence contained in the Wells Report and reasonably surmise that Brady orchestrated the thing. Nobody inside the Patriots organization would dare doctor footballs without Brady’s knowledge or direction.
The NFL had no choice but to discipline him once the details came to light. One of the key figures even referred to himself as the Deflator for goodness sake.
But a four-game suspension? Just seems harsh, even if Brady refused to comply completely with the investigation. A two-game suspension would have been far more reasonable.
Brady undoubtedly will appeal and it won’t be shocking if his suspension gets reduced by a game or two.
From the beginning, this case made it uncomfortable in choosing sides. Do you side with the Patriots’ organizational arrogance or Goodell’s rule? That’s like picking between a root canal and a colonoscopy.
The reaction of fans similarly seemed divided into two camps. Fans either tended to see this whole thing as silly, or that Deflategate deserved DEFCON 1 status.
The NFL can’t seem to avoid scandal under Goodell and while far less serious than recent cases of domestic abuse, Deflategate painted the commissioner into a tight corner.
Come down relatively light and the rest of the league would have cried foul, accusing Goodell of showing favoritism to his ownership ally and his golden boy quarterback.
So Goodell went the other direction, presumably in his attempt to show the other 31 teams that he’s impartial and won’t tolerate threats to the integrity of the game.
A perception exists that the Patriots and Belichick flaunt the rules and mine for every conceivable competitive advantage. The Patriots already have “Spygate” on their report card, and Goodell couldn’t ignore this one, even if investigating air pressure in footballs seems comical to some.
But, again, a four-game suspension for Brady, the loss of a first-round pick and a million-dollar fine?
Chalk that up as another Goodell decision that leaves me scratching my head.