THERE IS a long history of players taking leagues and governing bodies to court over important issues. Curt Flood fighting baseball's reserve clause. Retired players suing the NFL over concussion damage. College athletes demanding compensation for the NCAA's use of their likenesses. All were cases worthy of judicial consideration.
But the Deflategate nonsense, now headed for a New York district court, is better suited to one of those syndicated TV courtrooms. It is ludicrous that a federal judge is about to devote his attention to a case based on a bag of footballs that may or may not—who really knows or cares anymore?—have been underinflated by about as much air as a child needs to blow out birthday candles. When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell refused to reduce Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension last week, Brady and the NFL Players Association quickly filed a lawsuit, and the entire saga, once merely a waste of time, became a waste of taxpayer money.
The matter should have been resolved months ago with a fine and perhaps a one-game suspension for Brady, who from this vantage point appears to have been involved with some misdemeanor tampering. But largely because Goodell can't seem to decide between a mocha and a latte without commissioning a two-month investigation and a 200-page report, the handling of the alleged crime and punishment has become a ponderous exercise, tarnishing both the commissioner and the quarterback.
There is only one man who can put an end to the madness before it goes any further: Brady. He should call a press conference and announce that he is accepting the suspension with no further appeal. He can make it clear that this is not an admission of guilt, just an effort to end the matter in the best interest of the sport and before it crowds the courts. It would be his movie-star moment, his chance to look directly into the TV cameras with those steely blue eyes and create a clip of video that would reflect far better on him in years to come than the press conference he had when the story broke, when he strained credibility by acting as if he barely knew what a football was, let alone how to deflate one.
Accepting his sentence would be a shrewd move by Brady. His golden boy image has been scuffed, and falling on his sword despite maintaining his innocence would be seen as a noble act. Some would view it as a tacit admission of guilt, but a weary public would surely give Brady points for putting the story out of its—and our—misery.
As he sacrifices four games of his career, Brady could also encourage even more scrutiny of Goodell's mishandling of the case, and of how the commissioner gave him the same suspension for mistreatment of footballs that he gave Ray Rice and Greg Hardy for their mistreatment of women, not to mention how the league played fast and loose with the notion of due process in deciding his punishment. Brady's words would carry more weight coming from a man who was martyring himself instead of one defending himself.
Brady has far more to gain than lose by ending the legal battle. Missing a quarter of the regular season is no small consideration, but in case you haven't heard, Pats coach Bill Belichick is fairly good at what he does. If he had to, Belichick could probably coach up Brady's wife, Gisele Bündchen, to play QB and go 3--1. Besides, if Brady wins an injunction to play in September but later loses an appeal, he runs the risk of having to sit out four games at a more critical point of the season. When training camp opened last week, he took most of the reps with the first team. Why not let backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo prepare to start the first four games rather than wonder whether some court ruling will put him back on the sideline at any moment?
Giving up the fight wouldn't bring Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion, the kind of clear-cut victory he's used to, but he would still come out ahead. He should know, from having ended so many games this way, that sometimes the best way to secure a win is to take a knee.
Brady has far more to gain than lose by ending the legal battle—and sacrificing four games could also encourage scrutiny of Goodell's mishandling of the case.
What's the best way to end Deflategate?
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JOHN BURGESS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED