NFL Owner on Deflategate: 'This Entire Episode Is Embarrassing Our Sport'August 21, 2015
The NFL owner wanted to make two things clear when it comes to Tom Brady and Deflategate, one of the biggest land mines in NFL history. His words are important because it's possible—possible—his opinion is shared by not just some other owners, but also many others involved in the sport.
First, the owner reiterated something I've heard from others in the league: We all chose this. Meaning, the NFL signed a collective bargaining agreement with the union, giving the commissioner the power he now wields. Owners voted on it, this owner explained, just like the players union did. So for anyone from either side to complain about it now is wrong.
"We all agreed to this process," said the owner, who I've spoken to occasionally during Deflategate. "The union agreed to it, and the owners agreed to it. It's hypocritical for the union to say they hate the process or for Robert [Kraft] to put up such a fight. Robert didn't have a problem with the process when it was used against other teams."
This notion was backed by another owner I spoke to, as well as several high-ranking team executives. Both owners, as well as the team officials, asked not to be identified.
And the process they're talking about? Goodell having total control, the final say on discipline issues, and wielding that power.
Before you think the owners are Patriots haters, they are far from it. Said the same owner quoted above: "Robert is the smartest man I've ever known. His anger over the Brady suspension made me think hard about Brady's guilt or innocence when originally I thought Brady was guilty. I totally trust and admire him.
"Because I admire Robert doesn't mean I can't disagree with him on what Roger is doing. You simply can't vote to give Roger the power he has, then get upset when he uses it."
The second point the owner made was even more important.
"I agree with Roger being the voice of discipline," the owner said, "but it can't be denied that the process needs major tweaking. This process has hurt Tom, it's hurt Roger and it's hurt the NFL.
"This entire episode is embarrassing our sport. It makes us look horrible. Think about how long this has gone on. This shouldn't happen."
What should be done?
"I don't know," the owner said. "But I think there needs to be a discussion."
The other owner backed this idea, too. Again, the owner might speak for many.
The owner pointed to how Deflategate started in January and is still going. It was seven months to the day on Tuesday. It's been 215 days as of Friday. It took three days to go to the moon.
"Nothing like this happens in other leagues," the owner said. "Why our league?"
Again, these owners back Goodell, but this is the harshest I've heard any owner speak about the process. The same types of concerns about the case were expressed to me by several front-office sources.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman also questioned Goodell's judgment this week, telling USA Today's Jarrett Bell that the commissioner let the Patriots off easy:
You're fining players more than you're fining organizations? That should bring up some red flags. But nobody's talking about that. ...
... Owners can only be fined so much. There's a cap. And Brady gets fined (roughly $2 million). Whether the crimes are the same or not, a suspension is a suspension, a fine is a fine. Game checks. ...
... People are just so focused on, "Oh, that's a huge fine for the organization." It's not. A million dollars is peanuts to the Patriots, who will make (hundreds of) million dollars this year. Brady ... you take away four game checks, and you're doing this to the organization.
It's a good point, though, of course, there has always been tension between players and Goodell.
But in the past, Goodell has at least always received strong support from ownership. That support hasn't wavered, but I do sense more introspection from ownership and team officials on Goodell's dual role as punisher and appeals officer when it comes to discipline issues.
I do know ownership feels strongly that players need a stern hand punishing them. They have always believed Goodell should be that strong punisher.
I also know that as the NFL has repeatedly lost appellate cases, concern among some in ownership, and elsewhere in the sport, has grown. No, it's not massive concern. That's not fair. But it is concern. And it is growing.
The concern is image—that the former image of the league as an efficient, fair place is being destroyed. That is almost exactly how it was put to me by many different sources.
Eyebrows are raised, and I believe there is bewilderment about how footballs being deflated reached this incredible waypoint where the league is in federal court and the NFL is being excoriated in the media.
Even owners, officials and others who like Goodell (such as me) are wondering: What the hell is going on out here?
The perception problem has come to be symbolized by the judge in the federal case, Richard Berman, who has asked a number of pointed questions to NFL lawyers.
As reported by CSNNE's Tom E. Curran:
In explaining Brady's four-game ban, Goodell compared the ball deflation and failure to cooperate to PED use and the use of a masking agent.
"How are deflating footballs and not cooperating with the commissioner legally comparable to STEROID USE and a masking agent?" asked Berman.
Three different times, Berman derisively asked how ball deflation equates to STEROID USE.
"It's clearly a fair question to pose," said Berman. "[Goodell's] explanation of steroid use only raises more questions than it answers."
I asked the same owner quoted at the top of this story if he monitored this week's court developments in the Deflategate case. Of course, he said, he's monitored them all.
And his thoughts?
"Like I said," the owner explained, "this is embarrassing to our league."
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.