By Ed Payne and Catherine E. Shoichet
(CNN – May 14, 2015) — It’s official: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will fight the four-game suspension the NFL dealt him this week.
On behalf of Brady, the NFL Players Association filed an appeal Thursday, arguing that a neutral party should hear its argument.
“Given the NFL’s history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal,” the association said in a statement.
The National Football League on Monday suspended Brady for four games without pay after an independent investigation found that the Patriots used underinflated footballs for an advantage in last season’s AFC Championship game.
The appeal was expected. His agent, Don Yee, had promised one.
“The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis,” Yee said in a statement Monday.
“In my opinion, this outcome was predetermined; there was no fairness in the … investigation whatsoever,” he said. “There is no evidence that Tom directed footballs be set at pressures below the allowable limits.”
Any appeal hearing will begin within 10 days of the league’s receipt of an appeal. Brady’s appeal would be heard by either NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or an officer of his choosing.
The Patriots are standing by their quarterback, calling the discipline one-sided.
“Tom Brady has our unconditional support,” the team said. “Our belief in him has not wavered.”
In its official response on Monday, the organization said it continues to deny tampering with the balls, but was willing to face any discipline handed down. But the team and Robert Kraft, the Patriots’ chairman and CEO, said the sanctions announced by the NFL “far exceeded any reasonable expectation.”
The investigation was initiated to determine what was behind the Patriots’ use of underinflated footballs during January’s AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots beat the Colts en route to a Super Bowl XLIX victory.
The Wells report found that “it is more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities” of locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski.
Jastremski has been with the team for 14 years, the past three as the staffer in charge of preparation of the game-day footballs.
In a letter to Brady, NFL Executive President Troy Vincent said the quarterbacks actions were detrimental to the integrity of the sport.
“Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question,” Vincent wrote,
The 243-page Wells report said Brady, who answered questions from investigators over the course of one day, did not turn over personal information such as texts and emails. Furthermore, the report doubted the quarterback’s claim that he didn’t know the name of McNally, the part-time Patriots employee who investigators think most likely improperly deflated footballs just before the team faced off in January’s AFC Championship game.
The punishment (the details)
As it stands, Brady will be suspended for the first four regular season games of 2015, but can participate in training camp and other activities including preseason games.
Jastremski and McNally, who have been indefinitely suspended without pay since May 6, cannot be reinstated without NFL approval, the league said.
If the men are reinstated, they will be prohibited from certain duties, such as managing the locker room or overseeing preparation of the game footballs.
Goodell said the punishment is in line with the findings of the report.
“We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and the thoroughness and independence of the Wells report,” he said.
In announcing the penalties, the NFL also noted that the report did not find evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the coaching staff.
In the report, no one said the quarterback tampered with the balls himself. The evidence implicating him comes from texts involving and interviews with McNally and Jastremski.
The NFL took into account that Brady declined to turn over texts and other evidence to investigators.
Yee told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the quarterback didn’t agree to hand over text messages because that would set a bad precedent for other players involved in disciplinary investigations.
Reaction on social media has been brutal, much of it focusing on how the NFL has handled cases of players accused of domestic abuse.
In a Boston Globe editorial cartoon, the newspaper skewers the league for doling out lesser punishment for more serious matters.
“Four games?” exclaims a man reading the headline about Brady’s suspension.
“If he’d deflated the footballs by punching them in an elevator, it would only be two,” retorts a woman across the table.
It’s a reference to Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, who was cut by the team after a video showed him punching his then-fiancee and current wife Janay Rice at a casino in Atlantic City. He was initially suspended for two games by the league.
“Suspend Brady. Go ahead,” tweeted Mike Wise, a senior writer for ESPN. “But you know a worse integrity problem? A commissioner displaying willful ignorance during a domestic violence case.