A visibly angry Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, on Wednesday ripped the NFL after the league's commissioner's "unfathomable" decision upholding four-game suspension of star quarterback Tom Brady for his role in "deflate-gate."
Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a ruling Tuesday upholding the suspension, equal to a quarter of the upcoming season and a major blow to the team's chances of making the playoffs, after an appeal hearing last month at the league offices in New York. Brady was found by a league investigation to have "more likely than not" played a role in having game balls intentionally deflated, arguably providing his team with an edge in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
"The decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me."
- Robert Kraft, owner of New England Patriots
"The decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me," Kraft said at a news conference in the Boston suburb of Foxboro, where the team plays, adding the NFL "still has no hard evidence" that Brady worked with team equipment managers to deflate footballs.
Kraft, who earlier said the team would abide by the league's punishment of the team, which included a $1 million fine and the loss of a draft pick, lashed out at Goodell and voiced support for his embattled signal caller.
"I was wrong to put my faith in the league," Kraft said. "I continue to believe and unequivocally support Tom Brady."
Kraft said he believed that by not fighting the league on punishment meted out to the team, he believed he was showing good faith and increasing the chances Brady would be cleared. He bitterly accused the league of leaks that "cast aspersions and shaped public opinion" following release of the so-called Wells Report, and said "this was never about doing what was fair and just."
Goodell personally heard Brady's appeal, and upheld the suspension Tuesday, determining the two-time MVP "participated in a scheme to tamper" with the footballs. Goodell also wrote that Brady "willfully obstructed" the league's investigation by destroying his cellphone.
The 243-page report commissioned by the league and released in May determined that Brady was "at least generally aware" that team employees were doctoring the footballs, although it stopped short of finding as fact that the balls were deliberately deflated on Brady's orders. Although Brady was uncooperative with investigators, refusing to turn over his cellphone, two team employees did. Text messages between John Jastremski, a team equipment assistant, and locker room attendant Jim McNally, who appears to call himself the "deflator," left little room for doubt that footballs were purposely doctored for Brady's benefit.
One October exchange between the two seemed to imply that their anger at Brady prompted them to refuse to deflate footballs before a contest long before the Colts game.
Jastremski: Can't wait to give you your needle this week :)
McNally: F--k Tom….make sure the pump is attached to the needle…..fu-kin watermelons coming
Jastremski: So angry
McNally: The only thing deflating sun..is his passing rating
League rules allow each team to use its own game balls, but dictate that all must contain between air pressure of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. At halftime of the Colts game, 11 of the 12 game balls used by the Patriots were found to be as much as two pounds per square inch below the threshold, possible providing Brady and his receivers an improved grip.
"Deflate-gate" marked the second time in the last decade that substantiated allegations of cheating by the Patriots have put pressure on the league to punish the team. In the scandal known as "Spygate," the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the Jets’ defensive signals during the first game of the 2007 season. The team was fined $750,000 and docked a first-round draft pick.
Brady took to Facebook on Wednesday and said reports that he had destroyed his cell phone after the league requested it as part of the probe were false.
"I am very disappointed by the NFL's decision to uphold the 4 game suspension against me," Brady wrote. "I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either.
The Patriots routed the Colts by a 45-7 score in the Jan. 18 game, putting them in the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. The lopsided score prompted many experts to doubt whether any advantage gained by deflating footballs had an impact. But reports that the team was under investigation for deflating game balls dominated the news during the two weeks leading up to the game, in which the Patriots came from behind to win, 28-24. Although New England was aided by an inexplicable call by Seahwaks Coach Pete Carroll to pass instead of run from the one-yard line, leading to an interception by the Patriots that iced the game, it was Brady who was named MVP.
Brady finished the game with 37 completions in 50 attempts for 328 yards and four touchdowns, winning his fourth Super Bowl ring. In addition to being one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game, he is married to high profile supermodel Giselle Bundchen.