NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it official Tuesday: He will hear Tom Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension.
The league suspended the Patriots quarterback for his role in the use of deflated footballs by New England in its AFC championship game victory over Indianapolis in January. The players' union said Goodell should recuse himself from hearing the appeal because he can't be impartial and could be called as a witness.
But Goodell cited the "integrity of the game" and his "responsibility" under the labor agreement to "serve as hearing officer in any appeal involving conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game."
Goodell wrote to Brady on Tuesday, saying "My mind is open." The appeal will be heard June 23.
"I decline to rewrite our collective bargaining agreement to abrogate my authority and discretion to hear any appeal in a conduct detrimental proceeding," Goodell said in response to the NFL Players Association's demand that he recuse himself.
"I am not a necessary or even an appropriate witness, much less a 'central witness,' as the NFLPA contends," Goodell added. "Accordingly, there is no basis upon which I could properly be asked to testify in the appeal proceeding, which ... is designed to afford Mr. Brady an opportunity to bring new or additional facts or circumstances to my attention for consideration."
The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brady is going ahead with his appeal even as the Patriots are not challenging the $1 million fine and loss of two draft choices (first-rounder in 2016, fourth-rounder in 2017) the league gave them.
After the underinflated footballs were discovered during the Patriots' rout of the Colts, the league hired attorney Ted Wells to conduct an independent investigation. Wells' findings were released in May, saying Brady was "at least generally aware" of a scheme to illegally deflate footballs in that game. The report also cited Brady's unwillingness to hand over his cellphone to investigators, which could have limited the evidence they could gather.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, handed down the suspension for the first four games of the 2015 season. Then Brady appealed and hired attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who has fought the league - and other professional sports organizations - in labor cases for years.