The New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, has generally been one of Roger Goodell’s biggest supporters.
The two have leaned upon one another through countless controversies and labor disputes and the fact the NFL has been able to keep Kraft and the other owners rich has only solidified that bond – even after the Patriots were caught stealing the New York Jets signals in a game nine years ago.
But after Goodell tore up the start of the Patriots season by upholding Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension, Kraft ripped that relationship to shreds.
On Wednesday morning, Goodell’s greatest booster became the latest in a long line to swipe at the NFL commissioner.
“I was wrong to put my faith in the league,” Kraft said in a statement. “Given the facts, evidence and laws of science that underscore this entire situation it is completely incomprehensible to me that the league continues to take steps to disparage one of its all-time great players and a man for whom I have the utmost respect.
“Personally, this is very sad and disappointing to me.”
Kraft does not direct criticism at Goodell directly in his 698-word statement. He only mentions the commissioner by name once. But it is clear, given the lead Goodell has taken in this matter and the fact he handled Brady’s appeal, that when Kraft says “the league” he means Goodell.
As a businessman, Kraft appears stunned that Goodell didn’t find a way to reduce Brady’s suspension. At one point in his statement he said: “I have often said if you want to get a deal done you have to get the lawyers out of the room.”
“The decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me,” he said at anther point in the statement. “It is routine for discipline in the NFL to be reduced upon appeal. In the vast majority of these cases, there is tangible and hard evidence of the infraction for which the discipline is being imposed and still the initial penalty gets reduced.
“Six months removed from the [AFC] Championship Game [where the under-inflated balls appeared] the league still has no hard evidence of anybody doing anything to tamper with the PSI levels of footballs.”
Kraft also makes clear his respect and affection for Brady. “Tom Brady is a person of great integrity and is a great ambassador of the game both on and off the field,” he said. The Patriots owner apologized to Brady for initially accepting the league’s harsh punishment – which includes Brady’s four-game suspension, a $1m fine for the Patriots and the loss of a first round pick in 2016 and a fourth in 2017 – because he believed the appeals process would “help exonerate Tom.”
“I continue to believe and unequivocally support Tom Brady,” he said.
“The league’s handling of this entire process has been extremely frustrating and disconcerting,” Kraft said. “I will never understand why an initial erroneous report regarding the PSI level of footballs was leaked by a source from the NFL a few days after the AFC Championship Game [and] was never corrected by those who had the correct in formation. For four months that report cast aspersions and shaped public opinion.
“Yesterday’s decision by the commissioner was released in a similar matter, under an erroneous headline that read: ‘Tom Brady destroyed his cellphone,’ This headline was designed to capture headlines across the country and obscure evidence regarding the tampering of air pressure in footballs. It intentionally implied nefarious behavior and minimized the acknowledgement that Tom provided the history of every number he texted during hat relevant time frame. And he had already provided the league with every cellphone of every non-NFLPA [player] that they requested, including head coach Bill Belichick.”
Which means Belichick might want to consider changing his cell number.
The Patriots v Goodell is just beginning.
This article was written by Les Carpenter, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th July 2015 16.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010