Patriots fans have spent most of the day rejoicing Judge Berman’s decision in the Tom Brady case, and rightfully so. But to the extent that anyone believes Judge Berman “exonerated” Brady, the celebration is going a little farther than it should.
Judge Berman didn’t exonerate Brady. More specifically, Judge Berman didn’t find that Tom Brady had no awareness or involvement in an alleged (or actual) football deflation scheme. Judge Berman also didn’t find that Brady did not obstruct an NFL investigation.
Instead, Judge Berman found that, even if Brady is guilty as charged, he can’t be suspended. The NFL Players Association wisely refrained from putting it in those terms, since it would have caused some in the media to claim that the NFLPA is conceding that Brady is guilty. (When, for example, the NFL argued to Judge Berman that it doesn’t matter whether Ted Wells was truly “independent,” some thought the NFL was admitting that Wells wasn’t independent.)
The question for Judge Berman wasn’t whether Brady did or didn’t do it, even though some of his questions to the lawyers suggested that Judge Berman was curious about whether Brady did or didn’t do it. The question was whether the NFL had the power to suspend Brady. Judge Berman concluded that the NFL did not have that power.