NFL again under scrutiny with Brady poised to appeal suspension

May 12 (Reuters) - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is expected this week to formally appeal his four-game suspension over his role in "Deflategate," in what would be the latest test for a league whose sanctioning policies have come und...

May 12 (Reuters) - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is expected this week to formally appeal his four-game suspension over his role in "Deflategate," in what would be the latest test for a league whose sanctioning policies have come under intense scrutiny.

Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion and one of the National Football League's marquee players, has said he will appeal the penalty, handed down on Monday for his part in deflating footballs for the AFC title game in January.

The appeal, which must be lodged by Thursday at 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT), would follow a flurry of questions about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of other high-profile cases, including criticism that he was initially too lenient on star running back Ray Rice, who was at first suspended for two games and fined $500,000 in a domestic abuse incident.

The NFL took a harder-than-usual line with Brady following outcry over its handling of the domestic abuse cases and accusations by former players that it concealed information related to head injuries that might occur while playing, according to Michael Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at the University of Texas-Austin.

"I don't think you would have seen this penalty a year ago," he said. "This is a strong penalty.


"It is almost like the NFL has told us a misdemeanor is a felony and we now have to consider that and it forces people to say he must have really done something wrong."

The NFL said the Patriots likely deflated the footballs below league standards on purpose so Brady could grip the ball better in cold and wet conditions during their 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

Brady, who refused to hand over his cell phone during questioning by investigators, was "more probably than not" aware of the scheme, Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the NFL to look into the allegations, said in a 243-page report.

While the team and head coach Bill Belichick were exonerated of wrongdoing in the scandal, New England was still fined $1 million and forced to give up two draft choices, a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

After their victory over the Colts, the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in a title some now view as tainted.

Once Brady, 37, formally files an appeal, Goodell will have a week to appoint a hearing officer. The Patriots have not said whether they will appeal the penalties imposed on the team.

Speculation is that Goodell will choose Harold Henderson to hear an appeal of Brady's case. A former NFL executive, he heard the appeal of Minnesota Vikings player Adrian Peterson, who was suspended last season for beating his child with a switch.

Henderson upheld Peterson's suspension but the players union took the case to federal court and won. The judge sent the case back to the NFL for further proceedings under the collective bargaining agreement. He will also hear the 10-game suspension handed to Greg Hardy for a domestic abuse incident.


Robert Boland, a former NFL agent and currently professor of sports management at New York University's Tisch Center, believes the league might have sanctioned Brady too harshly.

"The NFL has typically won most of the appeals, but they're on a bit of a losing streak lately," Boland said.

He believes the quarterback's failure to cooperate with the investigation - one of the reasons cited in the penalty -- might not stand up on appeal.

"It wasn't that he failed to appear or speak to the NFL, it was that he refused to give up phone records that were personal to him," he said. "I think that may be an overstep. There's a real possibility that this penalty will be reduced."

The NFL had its indefinite suspension of Ray Rice, who knocked out his wife in a New Jersey elevator, turned aside on appeal late last year.


Reporting by Steve Ginsburg

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