If the NFL were merely punishing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (to the tune of docked first- and fourth-round draft picks, a $1 million fine for the team and a four-game suspension for Brady) based on a report that concluded that it was “more probable than not” they breached league rules by taking the air out of footballs, there’d be no doubt that the NFL was overreacting.
But it’s not that simple.
See, the league had to take plenty of additional pieces of criteria into account here. It had to weigh the overwhelming yet not completely set-in-stone evidence uncovered in the report with the small possibility that Brady and the Pats are innocent, while also considering factors such as New England’s refusal to fully cooperate, as well as the team’s track record.
In this case, reasonable doubt seems to be enough to justify at least some punishment, but as the NFL’s release on the punishment suggests, this has a lot to do with the way both Brady and the organization handled themselves in light of the Ted Wells’ investigation. Brady in particular refused to fully cooperate with investigators, and the report from Wells indicates the team was far from easy to work with. Considering all the league has done for Brady and those within this organization, that’s unacceptable. And by impeding the progress of the investigation, they were indeed guilty of “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL.”
Let’s keep in mind, too, that the Pats lost the benefit of the doubt with Spygate, which cost them a first-round pick in 2008. They’re repeat offenders.
These types of nefarious actions have to be dealt with quickly and forcefully. The Patriots have for years been an entitled organization, and Goodell had to be sure to hit the recidivist franchise a little harder, especially if he anticipated an appeal, which very well could cause Brady’s suspension to be shortened.
So on the surface, it all seems a little over the top, especially in comparison to some of the rather meager punishments Goodell has delivered to straight-up criminals and domestic abusers in the past, but times have changed. Considering the circumstances, the Pats were pretty much asking for this.