New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady entered an appeal hearing in the “Deflate-gate” scandal on Tuesday, with the beginning of his season and his reputation as a professional athlete on the line.
The four-time Super Bowl winning superstar has been suspended for the first four games of the upcoming NFL season because a league-commissioned investigation determined that he was “generally aware” of a plot to let air pressure out of game balls prior to this year’s AFC Championship Game. Deflated footballs are believed to be easier to grip and catch, and manipulating the pounds per square inch of footballs is a violation of NFL rules.
Embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is overseeing the appeal, which Brady supporters consider a conflict of interest, since it was his second-in-command who initially levied the punishment against the New England Patriots quarterback. However, Goodell has staunchly resisted calls for him from the NFL Players Association to recuse himself from the proceedings.
“The NFLPA argues that recusal is required because it believes that I may be a ‘necessary’ and/or ‘central’ witness in the appeal proceeding,” Goodell wrote this month. “I have carefully considered this argument and reject its premise. I am not a necessary or even an appropriate witness, much less a ‘central witness’ as the NFLPA contends.”
According to USA Today, Brady and his attorneys were greeted on their way into the closed-door session by sympathetic protesters carrying signs that read “DEFLATE THIS” and “FREE BRADY.”
NBC’s Peter Alexander also reports that according to a source familiar with the hearing, Brady testified under oath.
Ted Wells, the attorney on whose investigation the suspension was based, also attended the hearing. Brady’s representatives have been highly critical of Wells’ findings. “The Wells report, with all due respect, is a significant and terrible disappointment,” Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said in a statement in May. “It’s omission of key facts and lines of inquiry suggest the investigators reached a conclusion first, and then determined so-called facts later.”
Appeals of suspensions are often successful. For instance, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson both won permission in court to be reinstated in the NFL, overturning initial punishments for acts of domestic violence handed down by league Goodell. Peterson is expected to play for the Minnesota Vikings this upcoming season, but Rice has yet to find a team willing to avail themselves of his services.
Still, in neither appeal did Goodell himself serve as an arbitrator. A final ruling on Brady’s fate isn’t expected to come for weeks.