New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told reporters Wednesday that the NFL's decision to uphold the four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in Deflate-gate was "unfathomable" and "incomprehensible."
"I was wrong to put my faith in the league," Kraft said. The Patriots owner admitted that he didn't threaten a lawsuit against the NFL because he thought if he capitulated that it would "help exonerate Tom." On Wednesday, he insisted that the "league still has no hard evidence of anyone doing anything to tamper with the PSI levels of footballs," and that he "unequivocally" stands by Brady.
"Tom Brady is a person of great integrity and is a great ambassador of the game both on and off the field," added Kraft. However, the Patriots owner stopped short of saying whether he would now take any legal action against the NFL.
The Patriots' coach Bill Belichick was characteristically terse in a Q&A following Kraft's statement. He said he was "just trying to get the team ready and prepare for the regular season" and that he "won't be dealing" with the Deflate-gate issue. Training camp started Wednesday for the Patriots, and under the guidelines of the suspension Brady can fully participate. His suspension won't go into effect until the first regular season game this fall.
On Tuesday, the NFL doubled down on its initial finding in May that Brady was "generally aware" of a plot to manipulate the air pressure of footballs prior to January's AFC Championship Game. According to the NFL, Brady destroyed a cell phone that contained thousands of text messages that were pertinent to the league's investigation of Deflate-gate.
“Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs,” the NFL said. According to the league, Brady destroyed his phone the day he first met with attorney Ted Wells, who led the NFL's investigation. The NFL also claims that Brady didn't notify them about what happened to the phone until just a few days before his June appeal hearing.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that "rather than simply failing to cooperate, Mr. Brady made a deliberate effort to ensure that investigators would never have access to information that he had been asked to produce." Therefore, he concluded that four-time Super Bowl winner “engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”
In a Facebook post published early Wednesday, Brady reasserted his innocence and explained the chain of events that he claims led to his decision to let the NFL Players Association appeal the league's latest ruling in court.
"I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong,” Brady wrote.
“I respect the Commissioners [sic] authority, but he also has to respect the [collective bargaining agreement] and my rights as a private citizen. I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kraft's pointed push-back on the NFL is intriguing, considering the fact that he and Goodell had previously enjoyed what many observers considered a cozy relationship. Kraft is widely seen as one of the league's most influential owners, and he was a staunch defender of Goodell when the commissioner faced calls to resign amid the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal.
Prior to Wednesday's decision, many sports pundits speculated that the NFL and the Patriots would reach some kind of settlement, most likely resulting in a reduction or elimination of Brady's suspension. Instead the league's most famous player is taking it to court.