Remember when Buccaneers running back Errict Rhett was caught violating league rules by tampering with equipment in an effort to give himself a better grip on the football? You probably don’t, because in that case the NFL didn’t launch a months-long, multimillion-dollar investigation that concluded with Rhett being suspended and the Buccaneers being stripped of draft picks. No, when Rhett was caught putting Stickum on his jersey, the NFL responded by fining him $5,000.
With that decision, the NFL established a clear precedent that when a player commits an equipment violation, there’s a policy in place: He gets fined, and that’s the end of it. So why, when the NFL found that Tom Brady was caught violating the rules by tampering with equipment in an effort to give himself a better grip on the football, did the league have such a drastically different reaction?
That’s a question Ted Olson, the former United States Solicitor General who’s now part of Brady’s legal team, would like to have answered. Olson appeared this morning on PFT Live and pointed out that the Collective Bargaining Agreement already provides for players to get fined if they break a rule related to equipment. If the NFL thinks Brady broke an equipment rule, the punishment should have been a fine, not a four-game suspension.
“There’s a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with respect to equipment violations, and that’s what Brady is accused of,” Olson said. “We feel — and the evidence is very strong — that Tom Brady did not do anything wrong with respect to that. But if he did, and that’s what he’s accused of, those provisions are the appropriate provisions to apply. They call for a fine. . . . Instead, this very draconian punishment of a four-game suspension was imposed, instead of referring to the very provisions in the Agreement for people accused of violating the rules with respect to equipment. And the commissioner did not even discuss why he was not turning to that provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
It’s a strong argument on Brady’s side, one that the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit finds persuasive. And although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn’t say so, it’s easy to wonder whether, in hindsight, he had just put this whole thing behind him a year and a half ago by fining Brady and moving on.