Expect Brady vs. NFL to be filed sooner than later
In the case of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the federal lawsuit against the league came after arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld Peterson’s suspension. In the case of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, expect the lawsuit to come before Commissioner Roger Goodell resolves the appeal of Brady’s four-game banishment.
With Brady and the NFL Players Association making a strong push for Commissioner Roger Goodell to delegate a neutral arbitrator to handle the appeal and with the league leaking on Friday that Goodell is “very unlikely” to step aside voluntarily, it’s highly likely if not certain that a lawsuit attempting to force Goodell to delegate the appeal will be filed, possibly soon.
“If the Commissioner does not appoint such a neutral arbitrator, the NFLPA and Mr. Brady will seek recusal and pursue all available relief to obtain an arbitrator who is not evidently partial,” the appeal letter to Vincent states.
The NFLPA filed a pre-appeal lawsuit in 2012, when Goodell decided to handle the appeal of his own decision to suspend multiple players in connection with the New Orleans bounty scandal. While a ruling on that point never came in court, the pressure from the litigation eventually prompted Goodell to appoint former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to handle the appeal process.
The one certainty in this case (and perhaps the only certainty in this case) is that Goodell won’t be appointing Tagliabue again. Not only did Goodell’s former boss scrap all suspensions, but Tagliabue also issued a professional-yet-clear rebuke of Goodell for attempting to change a culture of the league by making an example out of one team at a time when many may be doing the same or similar things.
Three years ago, the NFLPA argued that Goodell already had determined the Saints players to be guilty. This time around, Goodell has insulated himself from such an argument because he delegated the initial decision to executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent. The primary argument in favor of recusal will come from the intent of the NFLPA and Brady to call Goodell as a witness for the appeal, on the question of whether and to what extent he was aware of the concerns about football inflation before testing of New England’s footballs occurred at halftime of the AFC title game in January.
Regardless of the specific arguments raised, the lawsuit surely is coming. As explained Friday, Goodell won’t be inclined to undermine the work of Ted Wells, who was hired by Goodell and who racked up millions in legal fees for work that started as an independent investigation but that finished as, in essence, a special prosecution.
If Wells and the NFL are so confident about the quality of his work, why not welcome a neutral third party to handle the case? As more and more of these high-profile disciplinary cases are processed by the league, more and more members of the media and fans are realizing that the league’s obsession with stacking the deck in the appeal process conflicts sharply with notions of fundamental fairness to those whose interests are being determined by persons with no interest in being truly fair.