Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why did a judge vacate Tom Brady's suspension?

I'm assuming you already heard about it - today, a federal judge vacated Tom Brady's 4-game suspension for "Deflate Gate." You can read the actual order here.

Generally, arbitration decisions are final and courts afford them extraordinary deference. So, why did the NFL lose? The Court focused on three factors:
  1. Tom Brady didn't have adequate notice 

  2. From the Court: 
    The Court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs, and non-cooperation with the ensuing Investigation.
    I don't think anybody would argue against a general right to know the rules ahead of time in disciplinary cases. It's a little tough to swallow that players weren't aware that cheating and then not cooperating with the resulting investigation could result in suspension. But, that's how the Court ruled.

  3. Brady was denied an opportunity to examine co-lead investigator Jeff Pash

  4. The NFL claimed that Pash played "no substantive role" in the investigation and made unspecified but not impactful comments about a draft of the investigatory report. The Court relied on NFL precedent for the proposition that players have a right to question their investigators, and the denial in this case was unfair and prejudicial.

  5. Brady was denied access to investigatory materials, including witness interview notes

  6. The Court ruled that Brady should have had an "opportunity to examine and challenge materials that may have led to his suspension." 
So, there you have it. It's hardly the full-throated declaration of innocence that some people are making it sound like. Was it the right decision? Certainly the Court focused on some legitimate concerns. That said, I'm skeptical that "Tom Brady the janitor" could get a court to apply this much scrutiny to an arbitration award.

I'm still baffled that the union would allow a CBA provision that gives the NFL Commissioner the power to serve as arbitrator whenever he wants - but that's a matter for the NFLPA to bargain.