NFL commissioner Roger Goodell now leads the league in fumbles after a federal judge obliterated the league's case against Tom Brady in the DeflateGate conspiracy. Some are even calling for Goodell to lose his job over this latest in a long line of public follies.
Brady was cleared of any connection to the cheating scandal because the league made a flimsy argument and the laws of the land work a lot differently than the laws of the league. U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman vacated Brady's four-game suspension based on his ruling that found league lawyers did not present a compelling argument connecting Brady to the scandal, that Goodell had no basis for a four-game ban, and that four games was a number the commissioner pulled out of thin air.
For the better part of eight months, the driving theme behind prosecuting Brady for his connection to DeflateGate was protecting the integrity of the game. But now it appears nobody has done more to damage that integrity than the commissioner himself.
Goodell railroaded the DeflateGate case through his own kangaroo court. He appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner. He moved the pieces across the board throughout the entire saga, relying on an imperfect and "independent" Wells Report (trolling quotes surrounded the word each time it appeared in Berman's ruling) to condemn Brady and the Patriots, even though that report said only Brady "more likely than not" had something to do with tampering with game balls.
Which is the same as saying that, more likely than not, Goodell should lose his job for making this so personal, for going after football's Golden Boy with such a limp argument, and for slandering the QB for months for a crime there was no proof he committed.
Brady plays for a team and a coach with a documented history of cheating. The cheating scandal behind Spygate, in which the Patriots illegally filmed opponents as a way to gain a competitive edge, was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It is impossible to ignore that history played a role in DeflateGate and the force with which the commissioner went after Brady and the Patriots again.
Yes, Brady may have ordered game balls to be deflated after they were inspected by NFL officials. Yes, there may be a competitive edge to be gained by letting out some air from those balls. Yes, Brady may have destroyed his phone and any evidence on it prior to meeting with league investigators. And yes, Brady may have known that tampering with balls was against the rules and it amounted to cheating. But there was no proof of any of that.
In this country, proof is paramount. If you can't prove someone committed a crime, "beyond a reasonable doubt," they cannot be convicted. It's the gold standard of our justice system.
Goodell is not a lawyer, but he is surrounded by them. And you have to believe that behind the scenes, some of his legal consiglieres were urging him to back off. Brady called Goodell's bluff, took the case to a real court, not one concocted in an NFL office, and set the facts before a real judge. It didn't take long for a true independent third party that wasn't being paid by the league, to find fault in the entire absurd case.
The NFL will appeal, because that's also how the justice system works. There may be plenty more courts and lawyers and billable hours to come. Even Donald Trump was calling for Brady to sue the NFL for this whole mess, for smearing his character. So it's not over.
But Goodell's tenure as league commissioner could be. There is enough egg on his face right now to feed the entire Patriots offensive line. And it's not just because of how he and the league mishandled the DeflateGate controversy more embarrassingly than any buttfumble. If he loses his job, it will be because of Goodell's entire body of work that has included a stunning portfolio of mistakes and public shame.
Earlier this year, Greg Hardy was initially suspended by the league for 10 games for his role in a domestic violence case. The NFL had conducted its own investigation and when Hardy appealed, the sentence was knocked down to four games. The same thing happened when child disciplinarian Adrian Peterson took the league to court and had his suspension lifted. Or when knockout artist Ray Rice won reinstatement in court. These are all chalked up as losses against Goodell, who, to be fair, takes his licks so the owners he works for don't have to.
Maybe it's not fair to heap all this on Goodell. Maybe he's not to blame for the PR hits the league has taken over the last few years. Maybe he's not the guy responsible for off-field violence and on-field concussions or players getting hooked on painkillers in the training room or cheerleaders making less than minimum wage.
But it is his job to protect the integrity of the game of football. And right now, after this latest fumble, you have to question how much integrity the NFL has. More likely than not Goodell will take a hit over this. Just how much of a hit remains to be seen.