It turns out, Tom Brady's cellphone wasn't the only thing that was destroyed.
So, too, was any remaining shard of belief in his competitive integrity, every last piece blown to smithereens with 10,000 text messages and one giant lie.
Does anybody still believe the NFL's most celebrated player didn't purposely deflate footballs in an attempt to gain an advantage during last season's NFL playoffs?
Does anybody still think his legacy should not include the word "cheater"?
Brady was actually lucky Tuesday when the NFL upheld his four-game suspension. In the wake of the league's accompanying revelation that Brady ordered the destruction of a cellphone that was one of the centerpieces of the investigation, he is fortunate Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't double the penalty to eight games. Or more.
If the NFL had been willing to take a big hit for the sake of fairness, the investigation could have been completed in a week last January and Brady never would have been allowed to play in — and win — the Super Bowl.
But at least the right thing has finally happened, and Goodell showed he would not be intimidated by powerful New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and an organization that has become the modern-day Raiders.
As quickly as one can pound a cellphone with a hammer, the NFL Players Assn. announced it was going to appeal the suspension, and there is some thought that Brady will seek an injunction in federal court that will allow him to keep playing during the appeal process. That could really be a hoot. Can you imagine Brady playing most of the Patriots season and then forced out of the postseason if the appeal is lost?
Brady is probably counting on the appeal taking several years, long enough for him to eventually disappear into retirement. And that's fine. He might never miss a game. The NFL could lose the entire case. It doesn't matter.
By upholding the suspension of its most marketable player — Tom Brady jersey sales currently lead the league — the point has been made that cheaters will be punished, and that arrogant cheaters will be shown no mercy, and that Tom Brady is both.
According to reports, it was Brady's swagger which caused him to be caught in the first place. Like a street con who had just pulled a fast one on some unsuspecting citizen, the perp just couldn't keep his mouth shut.
This entire mess was fueled by what happened in the bowels of New England's Gillette Stadium, in the press conference room, after the Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional game, 35-31. Brady had led his team back from a 14-point deficit while directing a four-linemen-and-one-skill-player formation that has since been ruled illegal.
The Patriots had skirted the rules, pushed the envelope and outsmarted the Ravens. Yet that wasn't enough for Brady. After hearing Ravens Coach John Harbaugh complain, Brady kicked the Ravens while they were down.
"Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out," he said.
The quote and the attitude were apparently too much for the Ravens to bear. Soon after, the Ravens reportedly tipped off the Indianapolis Colts about the possibility that Brady was using underinflated footballs, an allegation which was proven when officials tested the ball at halftime of the AFC Championship game in which the Patriots defeated the Colts, 45-7.
Yet the swagger continued. Brady maintained his innocence in an awkward pre-Super Bowl news conference, saying, "I feel like I have always played within the rules. I would never break the rules."
Then he refused to turn over his cellphone as part of the league's investigation. Even when that investigation resulted in a 243-page report that revealed evidence that Brady was lying, the quarterback stayed in his stance and vowed to fight for his truth.
Then the league revealed Tuesday that Brady ordered an assistant to destroy the cellphone that contained nearly 10,000 text messages sent during a time period that covered the deflation incident. It was tantamount to Brady throwing a sucker punch in that fight for his truth, robbing him of all credibility, and pretty much ensuring that even hardcore Patriots fans have to believe their man is a cheat.
Some people are saying that the league shouldn't have needed Brady's text messages if it already had possession of the messages Brady sent to the phones of Patriots equipment workers. But what if he had contacted others about the deflation? What if he had bragged about it to others? If he was so certain of his innocence, why did he destroy the one thing that could have helped prove it?
For sure, he was probably worried that league sources would leak damaging personal information unrelated to football after examining the messages. Indeed, in investigations such as this, probable cause searches and seizures can be messy. Too bad.
Some people thought Goodell would reduce the Brady suspension so it would not be compared to the four-game suspension given Dallas defensive lineman Greg Hardy for a domestic violence case. But the situations are vastly different. Hardy had already been banned from football last season, and the league initially attempted to suspend him for 10 games this season before an arbitrator reduced it to four games.
In the league statement upholding Brady's suspension, Goodell said Brady, "went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the scheme.''
Hide. Scheme. The words paint a picture that even Tom Brady cannot destroy.
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