Second Circuit Overturns Brady Ruling, Reinstates QB’s Suspension

On Monday, April 25, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit voted two-to-one to overturn NFL superstar Tom Brady’s voided 2015 suspension. Brady, who has quarterbacked the league-dominating New England Patriots to four Super Bowl wins this century, was originally handed a four game suspension prior to the start of last year’s football season for his role in the intentional deflation of game balls during the 2014 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Brady and the NFL Players Association appealed the suspension, and in September 2015, District Judge Richard Berman of the Southern District of New York found that Commissioner Roger Goodell had exceeded his authority as arbitrator under the terms of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement in suspending Brady, and overturned the decision.

The Second Circuit, however, disagreed with Judge Berman’s conclusions, holding that Commissioner Goodell has broad authority under the CBA to determine and enforce punishments for players violating the League’s personal conduct policy. The court ruled that it was not within their power to determine whether or not the suspension was fair or if more/less games should have been handed out; their review only existed so as to see if Goodell acted within his discretion in handing down the suspension generally and whether or not he acted appropriately as arbitrator. The power of arbitrators, it concluded, should be given great deference, provided that they carry themselves under the express terms of the contract that grants them the authority to act. And the CBA, which was bargained for between the League and its Players Association, did indeed give Goodell the authority to suspend Brady in such a manner, the court found. Legal interpretations of the Commissioner’s power under the CBA have already been a highly contested issue this year.

In light of the Second Circuit’s ruling, the NFLPA and Brady, who has maintained his innocence throughout the deflategate saga, will no doubt consider their appeal options moving forward, as the case was remanded to the district court and the suspension ordered to be reinstated in full. It is currently unknown whether the Supreme Court of the United States, the only judicial forum left for an appeal, would entertain hearing the case.

Even though it remains unclear whether Brady will sit any games come fall, one thing is for certain after Monday’s decision — the Second Circuit handed the NFL a publicity-fueled gift at a time when football’s position as America’s number one televised sport has never been more threatened.

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