U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman’s ruling Thursday obviously was a huge victory for Tom Brady, who now will be able to take the field next week for the New England Patriots’ regular-season opener.
But as big a win as Judge Berman’s decision was for Brady, it was an even greater loss for Roger Goodell, whose credibility as NFL commissioner took yet another hit.
Over the past half-decade, Goodell has had punishment after punishment reduced or vacated by outside arbitrators, with the nullification of Brady’s four-game suspension following similar decisions involving Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and the “Bountygate” New Orleans Saints.
Following Thursday’s announcement, the national media skewered Goodell. ESPN’s Bob Ley called the ruling “a major defeat.” Adam Schefter, in the same “SportsCenter” discussion, deemed it “an embarrassment to the NFL.”
But perhaps the most damning condemnation of the commissioner came from Judge Berman himself. In his 40-page decision, the judge repeatedly hammered the league’s use of the term “generally aware” and refutes the notion that Ted Wells’ investigation into the deflated-footballs controversy was “independent.” (Read the full decision here.)
Basically, Judge Berman believed what most Patriots fans did: that Goodell overstepped his bounds, which helped transform Deflategate from a minor controversy into the more-than-seven-month saga it became.
So, what does this all mean? First off, seeing the NFL fall in court time after time could make players more open to appealing any punishments handed down by the league. In fact, that already might be happening, as ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Thursday, citing a source, that Hardy is considering appealing his four-game suspension in the wake of Brady’s reversal.
Deflategate also soured the previously strong relationship between Goodell and highly influential Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who had publicly backed the commissioner during some of the lowest points of his tenure.
Goodell arguably is the most powerful man in professional sports. How many more times must he be proven wrong before that changes?
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images