New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Wednesday he “unequivocally” supports quarterback Tom Brady, who has been suspended four games for his role in “Deflategate.”
The National Football League “still has no hard evidence of anybody doing anything” to tamper with inflation levels of footballs, Kraft said during a press conference at the team’s training camp.
Kraft apologized to Patriots’ fans and said, “I was wrong to put my faith in the league.”
His statement was the latest round in a controversy in which the Patriots were accused of using underinflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage in January’s AFC championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Brady denied involvement, but the NFL suspended him four games without pay.
On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell affirmed the suspension he handed down in May, saying new information showed that Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, “sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the football” by breaking his cell phone — an important piece of evidence in the investigation.
Brady on Wednesday criticized the league and defended his breaking of the phone that contained more than 10,000 text messages.
“I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either,” Brady said in a post made to his verified Facebook page.
The NFL had asked to see the phone’s text messages but lacked subpoena power to force Brady to comply. Now the text messages are gone and cannot be retrieved, according to a letter from the football star’s cell phone provider.
On March 6, Brady was interviewed by investigators hired by the NFL. The league said it learned months later that on or about that date, Brady told his assistant to destroy the cell phone he had used since early November.
On Wednesday, Brady said he replaced his broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 after his attorneys told the NFL “my actual phone device” would not be investigated. His representatives turned over requested cell phone records and emails, Brady said, and tried to obtain text messages from his old phone from the cell phone provider. Only the phone numbers related to the text messages could be obtained.
Brady said that, as a union member, he didn’t want to set a precedent. He said investigators never told him failing to provide his cell phone would result in any discipline.
“Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January,” he said. “There is no ‘smoking gun’ and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact they have zero evidence of wrongdoing.”
Don Yee, Brady’s agent and attorney, said, “The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision.”
The NFL Players Association said it would file an appeal, presumably in federal court, on Brady’s behalf.
Saga of a cell phone
Brady’s cell phone was broken during a period that included the AFC Championship Game and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation into the allegations of tampering with the footballs.
The investigators, according to Goodell’s final decision, had asked Brady’s attorneys for the cell phone several times, on and before February 28.
It wasn’t until June 18, almost four months after investigators had requested its data from Brady and five days before an appeals hearing, that Brady’s lawyers informed the league the phone had been broken.
During the 10-hour-long appeals hearing at NFL headquarters in New York, Brady said the phone had been destroyed because it was his usual practice when he got a new mobile phone.
“We presented the commissioner with an unprecedented amount of electronic data, all of which is incontrovertible,” Yee said. “I do not think that any private citizen would have agreed to provide anyone with the amount of information that Tom was willing to reveal to the commissioner.”
He said electronic information was ignored by Goodell, and “we don’t know why.”
The quarterback began using a new phone on March 6, leading the NFL to believe the previous one had been destroyed that day.
Reacting to the decision to uphold the suspension, the NFL players’ union said on its website: “The fact that the NFL would resort to basing a suspension on a smoke screen of irrelevant text messages instead of admitting that they have all of the phone records they asked for is a new low, even for them, but it does nothing to correct their errors.”
Goodell failed to give Brady due process, the statement said.
Punishment for Patriots
In addition to Brady’s four-game suspension, the Super Bowl-winning Patriots were punished. The team was fined $1 million and will forfeit its first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and its fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft.
Lawyer Ted Wells, who led the investigation, said Brady probably had at least a general knowledge about how the balls were deflated.
Brady said Wednesday: “It is disappointing that the Commissioner upheld my suspension based upon a standard that it was ‘probable’ that I was ‘generally aware’ of misconduct. The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused.”
The investigators’ report said the likely perpetrators were equipment assistant John Jastremski and the man who carried the balls from the officials’ locker room to the field, Jim McNally. The Patriots have suspended both employees indefinitely.
Brady, one of the best-known and highest-paid athletes, has the option of filing a lawsuit and taking the fight to the courts.
In what appears to be a pre-emptive move, the NFL filed a complaint Tuesday against the players’ union in federal court in New York, asking a judge to confirm the decision to uphold Brady’s suspension.
In February, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, suspended last year after a child abuse case in Texas, filed suit and won his case — filed on his behalf by the players’ union. The NFL reinstated him in April. He has been participating in training camp, but the NFL’s appeal of the decision to overturn his suspension is pending.
The league suspended the 37-year-old football star indefinitely in November over allegations that last year he disciplined his son, then 4, too harshly with a “switch,” or thin stick.
If he accepts the suspension, Brady will sit out games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. He would return October 18 in a game at Indianapolis.
Players’ union spokesman George Atallah told CNN’s Rachel Nichols that media reports claiming the NFL offered to drop Brady’s suspension are “categorically false.”
“The negotiations never got that far,” Atallah told Nichols, adding that the players’ union made an initial offer to the league.
The proposed deal was that the four-game suspension be eliminated, but Brady would pay a fine for failing to cooperate with the investigation.
Atallah said league officials told them the NFL wouldn’t even discuss anything unless Brady admitted his guilt.
At that point negotiations ended, Atallah told Nichols.
In the Facebook post, Brady said he authorized the players’ union to make a settlement offer but the league didn’t make a counteroffer.
“I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight,” the post reads.
Brady has denied he knew of any plan to alter footballs so that they would be underinflated, which would have made the balls easier to grip.
The NFL didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the negotiations.