We might never know exactly whether Tom Brady had anything to do with any sort of shenanigans involving footballs in the 2014 AFC Championship Game — or any other football game for that matter.
But one thing is sure: The New England Patriots quarterback’s decision to give up the Deflategate fight, which he announced Friday on his Facebook page, isn’t an admission of guilt. At least not necessarily. It’s as much an acknowledgement that the system as it’s currently constituted certainly needs fixing.
This entire saga stopped being about deflated footballs a long time ago. Once it entered the courts and appeals were thrown around, turning into a drawn-out legal fiasco, it became a labor battle more to do with the powers possessed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell than anything else.
Sure, Brady and the Patriots could argue about the Ideal Gas Law until they were blue in the face. And yes, they could argue that a four-game suspension was a punishment unbefitting of the alleged crime. Again, the evidence was circumstantial at best, and no smoking gun was anywhere to be found.
But it didn’t matter because the NFL and the NFL Players Association collectively bargained Goodell’s decision-making power in 2011, and that’s why Brady faced such an uphill legal battle. The league and the players technically agreed to put this system in place, and that system ultimately railroaded Brady.
That likely will be Deflategate’s lasting legacy. Sure, Patriots haters will bring it up any and all times Brady’s name comes up for the rest of his career and beyond. But this probably won’t do much to Brady’s legacy in the long run. Like most controversies, it likely will fade over time (especially now that Brady has ended his fight), and the four-time Super Bowl champion’s Hall of Fame résumé largely will stand on its own.
But Deflategate as a whole isn’t about to die. In fact, the fight just might be starting. Deflategate’s greatest irony was that the players helped give Goodell the absolute power he used to suspend Brady. Few would argue Goodell and the NFL acted with a whole lot of integrity, but it’s hard to say they acted unfairly, at least in regards to the CBA.
So if the NFLPA doesn’t make the disciplinary process an integral part of its arguments once this current CBA expires after the 2021 draft, then it’s dumber than we ever could have imagined.
If the NFL was willing to drag Tom freaking Brady through the mud, you’d better believe they’d be willing to do it to lesser players. The rest of the league had to take notice of that, and this should be a major sticking point in the next negotiations.
So with just 89 words Friday, Brady seemingly ended the Deflategate drama, never admitting guilt. That’s never going to happen, and if it was, Brady already would have settled this by now. However, he ultimately learned the fight against the NFL was unwinnable.
In doing so, though, Brady set the stage for a potentially huge labor battle that could shape the football and sports world for a long time.
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