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Tom Brady will challenge NFL in federal court over DeflateGate suspension

After his DeflateGate suspension was upheld by Roger Goodell, Tom Brady is taking the fight to federal court.

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Tom Brady will challenge the NFL's decision to uphold his four-game DeflateGate suspension in federal court, ESPN's Jim Trotter reports. After a lengthy wait, the NFL ruled that Brady was aware that Patriots employees deflated footballs ahead of the AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Cots. The NFL's statement also claimed that Brady destroyed his cell phone, which may have contained evidence against him.

In a statement, the NFL Players Association laid out its case against the NFL:

The Commissioner's ruling today did nothing to address the legal deficiencies of due process. The NFL remains stuck with the following facts:

The NFL had no policy that applied to players;
The NFL provided no notice of any such policy or potential discipline to players;
The NFL resorted to a nebulous standard of "general awareness" to predicate a legally unjustified punishment;
The NFL had no procedures in place until two days ago to test air pressure in footballs; and
The NFL violated the plain meaning of the collective bargaining agreement.
The fact that the NFL would resort to basing a suspension on a smoke screen of irrelevant text messages instead of admitting that they have all of the phone records they asked for is a new low, even for them, but it does nothing to correct their errors.

The NFLPA will appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.

On Wednesday, the NFLPA formally filed an appeal:

The NFLPA filed an appeal today on behalf of Tom Brady in U.S. District Court of Minnesota to vacate the four-game suspension upheld by Goodell based on the following:

  • There was no direct evidence in the Wells Report so the discipline was based on a made up "general awareness" standard to justify such absurd and unprecedented punishment.
  • Roger Goodell delegated his disciplinary authority to Troy Vincent, violating our Collective Bargaining Agreement, and then as the "arbitrator," he ruled on his own improper delegation, botching basic arbitration law and fundamental fairness.
  • A collectively bargained policy already exists regarding tampering with equipment that provides only for fines, not suspensions. Troy Vincent ignored this policy when he issued his initial discipline. The policy that Vincent did apply to Brady only covers teams and team executives, not players. The NFL once again violated players' right to advance notice of discipline to try to justify unprecedented punishment.
  • No player in NFL history has served a suspension for "non-cooperation" or "obstruction."  And, in this case, the evidence is paper-thin.
  • The appeals hearing held on June 23, 2015 defied any concept of fundamental fairness and violated the principles of our CBA.

The collective bargaining agreement provides procedures and guidelines for how the Commissioner conducts disciplinary hearings and the rules applicable to players. The NFL chose to violate these principles.

By pursuing this petition, our union is protecting the rights of Tom Brady and of every NFL player past, present and future.

Brady's case may also center on the fact that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was the arbitrator during his appeal in June. Brady and NFL Players Association lobbied for Goodell to recuse himself from the case, but the commissioner refused.

Primarily, it appears the players union is arguing that the NFL misapplied its own policy. As written, the rules pertaining to the handling of equipment apply to club personnel and not players. Essentially, the NFL set a precedent when it punished Brady without any specific guideline for how the situation should be treated.

The case against Brady in the Ted Wells investigation is inconclusive as well. The language of the Wells report states that it's "more probable than not" that the quarterback was aware that violations had occurred, giving Brady some plausible deniabiity.

In favor of the NFL is the fact that Brady destroyed his phone and any evidence therein. The NFL's statement on its appeal decision stated that Brady destroyed his cell phone on or before March 6, the date he met with Wells. During the four months that the phone was in use, the NFL claims that Brady exchanged more than 10,000 text messages, none of which can be retrieved. Text message threads between Patriots employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski were key pieces of evidence in the Wells report.

Before the announcement of Brady's decision to petition Goodell's ruling, the NFL reportedly asked a federal court in New York to confirm the Brady suspension. The move was a preemptive strike against Brady and the NFLPA, who may try to take the case to the federal courts in Minnesota or Massachuseets, which are considered labor friendly and Patriots friendly, respectively. Recently, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson successfully took the NFL to court in Minnesota and won after a third party arbitrator upheld his 2014 suspension for child abuse charges.

The jurisdiction battle could prove pivotal. As Andrew Brandt notes, courts can be loathe to overturn decisions made by established arbitration, and Brady is governed by a collective bargaining agreement that gives Goodell significant punitive power.

SB Nation presents: How Pats fans feel about the Wells DeflateGate Report