NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had clear authority under a union contract to suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games in the "Deflategate" controversy, the league told an appeals court on Monday.
In a brief filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, the league argued that the contract specifically "grants the commissioner authority to discipline players for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football." The brief accused the NFL Players Association of trying to misapply the league's "uniform policy," which restricts punishment for first-time offenders, to Brady's case.
Under the contract, Goodell "was entitled to conclude that, unlike wearing the wrong color shoes or failing to tuck in one's jersey, Brady's unique and aggregate misconduct posed a threat to the integrity of and public confidence in the game," the NFL lawyers wrote.
The appeals court is hearing the NFL's appeal of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that nullified Brady's suspension on allegations that the star quarterback conspired to gain an advantage by having team employees underinflate balls at January's AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts and then obstructed an internal probe, including destroying his cell phone. The Patriots won, 45-7.
The lower-court judge found the league's discipline of Brady was based on "several significant legal deficiencies," including that it failed to adequately provide notice that a lengthy suspension could result from deflating footballs.
In papers filed earlier this month, the union accused Goodell and the league of making a "sweeping grab for power that is contrary to collectively bargained penalties." Under the "equipment violations" provision, the league must provide notice in bold, italicized type that "First offenses will result in fines," the union said.
A three-judge panel will hear oral arguments in March before issuing a decision weeks or months afterward.