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It Is Not So Much About Tom Brady Versus The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell...

Updated on September 4, 2015

It Is Not So Much About Tom Brady Versus The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell....

I hope that we do not look back at the current dispute between the National Football League's (NFL) Commissioner Goodell and quarterback Tom Brady - both of whom are proxies respectively for the National Football League team owners and the professional football players - that killed the proverbial golden goose. No doubt that the NFL is making Midas loot hand over fist, with no foreseeable curtailment of the revenues. Like most of those who have a modicum of legal training, I sincerely thought that Mr. Brady would lose in the 'Deflate-gate' dispute, but yesterday, a Judge Berman set aside the four-game suspension of Mr. Brady for allegedly 'deflating' the footballs used in the game. Had Judge Berman adhere to the Contract law principles that govern the Collective-Bargaining-Agreement (hereinafter CBA), a CBA duly negotiated between the NFL owners and the players - Tom Brady's four-game suspension should have been upheld.

A Brief Exposition of the Contract Law Principle (s) Operating in the Dispute:

As far as I can remember from my mandatory Contracts law class is that duly negotiated contracts and the language therein - no matter how seemingly one sided - is sacrosanct... with few exceptions. In the precedent setting cases used to teach Contract Law, there is an apt example of the tiny pepper corn; and as 'invaluable' or worthless as said pepper corn may be, it was permitted to be used by one of the negotiating parties as Consideration (something of value given by the parties to come to the agreement) and held up in the court of law. I laid that ground work to explain that the players went into the last CBA negotiations with the NFL owners and signed off to give Commissioner Goodell the power to dole out punishment when there is an apparent breach of the NFL's rules. One could say that it was foolhardy to have signed off on such a CBA agreement on the part of the players, which virtually gave Commissioner Goodell carte-blanche and fiat-like powers to dole out punishment - but they did, and, as a consequence, Brady's punishment should have been upheld by Judge Berman, in accordance to my example used above about the pepper corn as Consideration.

As mentioned above, there are always exceptions and Contract Law has its share. For example, the exception that is almost apropos here is the concept of an Adhesion Contract, which basically means that one party in the contract negotiations had all the power, and, in essence, the weaker other side was forced to sign off - this is akin to the shot-gun wedding. This was not the case with the players and the NFL owners because both were represented by more than competent counsels from 'White-Shoe' law firms, which then underscore that there was no one sided influence and makes void the concept of the shot-gun wedding. Granted that I was an average law student, but the lawyers, especially on the part of the NFL Commissioner, should have known that there is an adversary relationship and should have taken steps to have neutral parties (arbitrators) to adjudicate disputes between the parties. The concept of the Appearance of Impropriety should have also come to the fore because how could anyone reasonably expect that the NFL Commissioner to be 'judiciously fair' in any dispute with the players when he made some $40 million last year alone, paid by the NFL owners - it's like having a thirsty man (Goodell) coming out of the Sahara Desert and expecting him not drink from the copious troughs (NFL owners money) placed before him to do the owners biddings.

What of Tom Brady's Alleged Culpability:

Almost every quarterback, even those supporting Mr. Brady, when asked about the deflation of the footballs, said that Tom Brady should have known that the balls were tampered with. Since there is no jail time for such a breach, I can only turn to a Tort law concept that I can used to handicap the Brady dispute. The concept of Res Ipsa Loquitur, which means that one had exclusive control of the thing in dispute or that caused the harm. Surely, the lowly ball boys are not going to tamper with the football by themselves - someone must have told them to do so at the benefit of Mr. Brady; whether Brady or Coach Belichick ordered the balls to be altered, they were in possessions of the balls, and therefore, they are liable for the actions taken by the NFL Commissioner Goodell. Now, whether or not Brady was responsible, did he deserve a four-game suspension? From a comparison point of view, of others who were punished for breaching the NFL's rules - no! Furthermore, it does not look good/fair when Mr. Brady suffered the same punishment fate as a Ray Rice who viciously beat down his wife or for those players who used performance enhanced drugs (PEDs).

It was expected that the NFL owners would appeal Judge Berman's decision that set aside Brady's four-game suspension, but, as I have said, this is more than this particular dispute; this is about the future power of the NFL Commissioner and the players rights and ability to have a 'neutral body' to resolve issues between the parties, as it is the wont in an adversary system. At this juncture, Commissioner Goodell has lost much of his power, because, now, the legal concept of the 'flood gates' being wide open is appropriate - think of all the cases, legitimate or otherwise, that are going to be challenged if there is no neutral avenues to resolve said issues between the adversary parties. I do not know if we are now going to see the rabid knock-down, drag-out fights to place personnel on the coming arbitrators' panel we have seen when there is an opening on our Supreme Court, however, I do hope though that the parties involve realize that there is enough, money-wise, to go around because no one wants to be the party responsible for destroying the ever increasing goose laying Midas revenues. Go Raiders!


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