Tom Brady is free.
U.S. District court judge Richard M. Berman issued a 40-page decision overturning the NFL’s suspension of Brady on grounds that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell violated the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
“The Court hereby denies the Management Council’s motion to confirm the Award and grants the Players Association’s motion to vacate the Award, thereby vacating the four-game suspension of Tom Brady, effective immediately,’’ Berman wrote.
In a statement, the NFL announced Thursday it will appeal the decision.
“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision. We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game. The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.’’
In overturning the suspension, Berman identified “several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four-game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigaroes, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.’’ Those deficiencies are found on page 20 of the document (read the full document here).
The judge also took issue with the NFL comparing ball deflation to steroid use.
The decision clears the way for the Patriots quarterback to begin the season on time.
Shortly after the news broke, the Patriots’ official Twitter account posted a picture of an enthusiastic Brady pumping his fist.
That enthusiasm was shared by George Atallah of the NFLPA.
Players' rights win again.— George Atallah (@GeorgeAtallah) September 3, 2015
Berman had urged both sides to reach a settlement, but an agreement never materialized as negotiations stretched over the month of August. During the ill-fated settlement talks, the NFL reportedly wanted Brady to admit guilt and accept the findings of the 243-page report on the incident by league-appointed investigator Ted Wells. The report concluded that Brady was probably “at least generally aware’’ that two Patriots staffers let air out of game balls before the AFC Championship Game. Deflating the balls could have made them easier for the Patriots to handle in their rainy 45-7 victory over the Colts in the in January.
On Thursday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith released a statement praising the decision not just for Brady, but for all NFL players.
The rights of Tom Brady and of all NFL players under the collective bargaining agreement were affirmed today by a Federal Judge in a court of the NFL’s choosing. We thank Judge Berman for his time, careful consideration of the issue and fair and just result. This decision should prove, once and for all, that our Collective Bargaining Agreement does not grant this Commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading. While the CBA grants the person who occupies the position of Commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position, the union did not agree to attempts to unfairly, illegally exercise that power, contrary to what the NFL has repeatedly and wrongfully claimed. We are happy for the victory of the rule of law for our players and our fans. This court’s decision to overturn the NFL Commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses. Collective bargaining is a much better process that will lead to far better results.
The Deflategate scandal first came into the public consciousness on the night of the AFC Championship Game, when an Indianapolis reporter tweeted that the NFL was looking into the possibility of the Patriots deflating footballs.
Breaking: A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night. More to come.— Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) January 19, 2015
Two weeks later, the Patriots won the Super Bowl. In the seven months following, Deflategate remained a national story as the focus shifted away from the Patriots and onto Brady, whose four-game suspension, issued by Goodell in May, was upheld in July. In addition to Brady’s now-voided punishment, the Patriots were fined $1 million and docked two draft picks, punishments the team has said it will not fight.
The Patriots open the 2015 season September 10 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Photos: Timeline of Deglategate events