Roger Goodell Justifies Hearing Tom Brady Appeal: ‘None of the Arguments Advanced by the NFLPA Has Merit’

Roger Goodell
The Associated Press

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell outlined his reasons for not recusing himself from Tom Brady’s suspension appeal in a letter to the NFL Players Association released on Tuesday.

The commissioner noted that he plans to hear the appeal on June 23. “Based on the unambiguous language and structure of the CBA [collective-bargaining agreement], as well as common sense,” Goodell writes, “I conclude that none of the arguments advanced by the NFLPA has merit.”

The players association argued that Goodell had no business judging a case in which he would be called as a witness and that he possessed no right to outsource the initial punishment to an underling.

The commissioner argues:

First, the NFLPA argues that I may not serve as hearing officer because Mr. Brady’s discipline letter was signed by NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent rather than by me. I disagree. The identity of the person who signed the disciplinary letter is irrelevant. The signatory’s identity does not influence in any way my evaluation of the issues; any suggestion to the contrary defies common sense. (I note that NFL executives other than the Commissioner have signed disciplinary letters in numerous proceedings in which the Commissioner or his designee later served as hearing officer. I am not aware of any objections by the Union to that practice. To the contrary, as Mr. Nash’s letter points out, the Union has confirmed its acceptance of this procedure.)

There can be no dispute that this is an appeal of Commissioner discipline: As the letter signed by Mr. Vincent explains in its first sentence, “The Commissioner has authorized me to inform you of the discipline that, pursuant to his authority under Article 46 of the CBA, has been imposed upon you….” I did not delegate my disciplinary authority to Mr. Vincent; I concurred in his recommendation and authorized him to communicate to Mr. Brady the discipline imposed under my authority as Commissioner.

Even if there were a procedural issue raised by the identity of the signatory to a discipline letter that I authorized, no reason or logic — and certainly nothing in the CBA — would support recusal as the remedy. After all, the CBA provides that “the Commissioner may serve as hearing officer in “any appeal” involving conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game.

Second, the NFLPA argues that recusal is required because it believes that I may be a “necessary” and/or “central” witness in the appeal proceeding. 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.

I do not have any first-hand knowledge of any of the events at issue. (That fact makes this matter very different from the Rice appeal, in which there was a fundamental dispute over what Mr. Rice told me in a meeting at the league office.) Nor did I play a role in the investigation that led to Mr. Brady’s discipline. Furthermore, there is no reasonable basis for dispute — or for any testimony — about authority for the discipline reflected in the letter signed by Mr. Vincent. The letter itself is clear on this point. And there is no basis for my testifying about prior instances in which discipline was considered or imposed for similar conduct; if that were the case, the NFLPA could seek my recusal in every conduct detrimental proceeding, directly contrary to our agreement that I have the “discretion” to hear “any” appeal.

Regardless, my knowledge of any underlying facts in this matter would not provide a basis for recusal. The CBA contemplates such knowledge and expressly provides that the Commissioner may hear and decide “any” appeal of conduct detrimental discipline.

Accordingly, there is no basis upon which I could properly be asked to testify in the appeal proceeding, which under Article 46 of the CBA is designed to afford Mr. Brady an opportunity to bring new or additional facts or circumstances to my attention for consideration.

Third, the NFLPA argues that recusal is required because I have “prejudged” the matter and cannot fairly evaluate the potential testimony of league staff members. After carefully considering this argument, I reject it.

The process by which discipline is imposed for conduct detrimental, and by which appeals of disciplinary decisions are heard, has been in place for many years and is well known to the parties. That includes the role of league staff in the proceedings and the likelihood that the Commissioner will have some knowledge of the underlying facts.

When the parties agreed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to continue the provisions confirming the Commissioner’s “discretion” to hear “any” appeal of a player facing discipline for conduct detrimental, they clearly understood (a) that such appeals regularly involve testimony by league staff about the issues and events in dispute and (b) that if the Commissioner has taken some action against the player for conduct detrimental and given him notice of impending discipline, he necessarily would have reached an initial conclusion about the player’s actions. Nonetheless, the parties’ agreement that the Commissioner may serve as hearing officer in “any appeal” could not be more clear. Thus, neither of those two factors can serve as a basis for recusal.

Nor have I “prejudged” this appeal. I have publicly expressed my appreciation to Mr. Wells and his colleagues for their thorough and independent work. But that does not mean that I am wedded to their conclusions or to their assessment of the facts. Nor does it mean that, after considering the evidence and argument presented during the appeal, I may not reach a different conclusion about Mr. Brady’s conduct or the discipline imposed. That is true even though the initial discipline decision was reached after extensive discussion and in reliance on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game. As I have said publicly, I very much look forward to hearing from Mr. Brady and to considering any new information or evidence that he may bring to my attention. My mind is open; there has been no “prejudgment” and no bias that warrants recusal.

NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent meted out a four-game suspension to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in May. The NFL cited Brady’s refusal to share the contents of his phones with investigators, as well as a “more probable than not” verdict by the Wells Report that Brady knew of a scheme to deflate footballs, as justification for the punishment.

The NFL docked the Patriots $1 million and two draft picks. Team owner Robert Kraft, heretofore an ally of Roger Goodell, opted not to fight the punishment to his organization despite denying the charges.

The Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game that resulted in the “Deflategate” controversy. The Patriots sealed a Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the game’s last minute via a goal-line Malcolm Butler interception. Brady won the game’s MVP award.