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Roger Goodell's Greatest Con? How The NFL Wins Even By Losing DeflateGate

A federal judge deflated "DeflateGate" on Thursday, erasing New England quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for a controversy that the NFL claimed threatened football's integrity. U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, pictured here on Aug. 31, went too far in affirming punishment of the Super Bowl winning quarterback. Still, Bill Littlefield wonders if Goodell wasn't using DeflateGate to serve his purposes all along. (Richard Drew/ AP)
A federal judge deflated "DeflateGate" on Thursday, erasing New England quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for a controversy that the NFL claimed threatened football's integrity. U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, pictured here on Aug. 31, went too far in affirming punishment of the Super Bowl winning quarterback. Still, Bill Littlefield wonders if Goodell wasn't using DeflateGate to serve his purposes all along. (Richard Drew/ AP)
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At two hearings last month, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman indicated that he felt NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had handled the investigation of the alleged malfeasance of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady badly. Law professor Michael McCann, following the drama for Sports Illustrated, concluded that the judge was “perplexed by the NFL’s system of justice,” and that Berman “raised numerous criticisms about the methods used by the NFL to investigate Brady.”

As it turns out, the commissioner and his minions should have taken the hint. Except that, as it turns out, the judge’s remarks were less a hint than a flashing red neon sign reading: “Don’t make an absurd situation even dumber, Pal. Cut your losses. Offer Tom Brady the opportunity to walk away without admitting anything. He’ll probably accept a one-game suspension for the sake of your silly 'Shield,' and everybody can retreat and declare victory.”

perhaps the owners are high-fiving their commissioner. He kept DeflateGate inflated until the eve of the regular season.

But no. Commissioner Goodell went all in, and now the spectacularly flawed process to which he and his investigators had pinned their hopes has been rejected not only by most of the people who’ve known anything about it, but by an actual judge.

Judge Berman’s opinion won’t change the minds of the people who hate the Patriots. They’ll simply assume the judge is in on the vast conspiracy designed to keep New England at the top of the NFL heap.

But the decision will further erode whatever had been left of Goodell’s reputation as an executive charged with reviewing his own investigations and handling appeals to his own judgements. Judge Berman determined that the suspension of Brady was “premised upon several significant legal deficiencies,” which is lawyer-speak for “What can you have been thinking?”

In the short run, Judge Berman’s decision means Tom Brady will be on the field when the Patriots play the Steelers on Sept. 10, unless he gets injured before the season begins, as so many other NFL players have done this summer. Again.

But it would be irresponsible to dismiss the intriguing possibility that even in losing, Commissioner Goodell has won.

For months, the saga of Brady and his footballs has occupied sports writers and fans. Could the weather have been responsible for the air pressure in those footballs? Did Brady’s decision to destroy his phone indicate anything beyond his realization that he could afford a new one? And what about the air that allegedly wasn’t in those footballs? Where did it go?

because football fans have been preoccupied ... they haven’t been talking about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or any of the other debilitating conditions that begin in a workplace where getting hit in the head a lot is part of the job description.

All right, I made that last one up, but is it any sillier than what preceded it? The point is that by building and sustaining what has come to be known as “DeflateGate,” Commissioner Goodell has kept his game in the news throughout the season during which nobody plays it. And because football fans have been preoccupied with guessing whether Tom Brady’s “legacy” would suffer or how well the Patriots might do without him for as long as he was sitting in the corner to which the commissioner had banished him, they haven’t been talking about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or any of the other debilitating conditions that begin in a workplace where getting hit in the head a lot is part of the job description. This may change now. Brady’s back, and another star, Will Smith, will play Dr. Bennet Omalu in “Concussion,” a movie to be released in December. Dr. Omalu is the researcher whom the NFL and the league’s alleged physicians tried to smear and discredit after he began finding evidence of CTE in the brains of various men who’d played in the NFL for years before they became depressed, began behaving erratically, and took up residence in their cars or shot themselves in the chest.

Given all that, perhaps the owners are high-fiving their commissioner. He kept DeflateGate inflated until the eve of the regular season. Soon there will be meaningful wins to discuss. Who’ll remember then that Roger Goodell lost again?

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