The National Football League upheld its suspension of star quarterback Tom Brady for four games, but the “Deflategate” controversy is far from over.
In a statement, the NFL said new information surfaced after the suspension was initially handed down on May 11. The most damaging accusation is that Brady “directed that the cell phone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed” after meeting with investigator Ted Wells, according to the league.
The destruction of Brady’s cell phone was disclosed on June 18, five days before a 10-hour appeal hearing in front of Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Brady, who has won four Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots, was benched by the NFL for his alleged role in deflating footballs that were used during last season’s AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The NFL also fined the Patriots, who declined to appeal Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision. However, Brady appealed, and the decision on Tuesday to keep the suspension intact will likely set off a legal battle between Brady, the NFL Players Association and the league.
Multiple reports have suggested in recent weeks that Brady was preparing to sue the NFL unless his suspension was entirely scrapped.
The NFL is said to have filed paperwork in federal court on Tuesday, seeking affirmation of its decision in anticipation of a lawsuit. The NFL Players Association confirmed that it will “appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.”
Veteran sports agent Leigh Steinberg said Brady could have resolved the controversy quickly. With a public apology for taking his competitiveness too far, most of the public would have forgiven the quarterback.
Instead, Brady and the Patriots took the NFL to task for what they characterized as a flawed investigation.
If the court grants Brady an injunction to put the suspension on hold, “Deflategate” will drag on for some time and potentially extend public scrutiny, Steinberg said.
“Generally, I advise players to cut their losses and move on,” Steinberg, who runs Steinberg Sports & Entertainment, told FOXBusiness.com. “If he did nothing wrong and this is a matter of principle, I understand that. But it will come at a heavy price.”
A legal challenge by Brady was widely expected, especially given the results of recent cases involving suspended football players. In February, a judge overturned the indefinite suspension of running back Adrian Peterson.
However, the revelation that Brady trashed his cell phone may change the equation.
At his appeal hearing, Brady testified that he or his assistant destroys his cell phone when he purchases a new one. The NFL, though, said Brady’s phone was destroyed on or about March 6, the same day investigators met with the two-time MVP.
“The commissioner found that Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs,” the NFL said.
The Patriots also released a statement, saying “it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives.”
Steinberg believes Goodell was in a “no-win situation.”
Owners reportedly put pressure on Goodell to hold his ground, while Brady’s status as one of the most recognizable and successful players in the NFL means the league and its sponsors lose when he is not on the field.
“This is arguably the league’s poster boy who had a pristine reputation,” Steinberg said. “There would have been controversy either way.”