Will Brady get off the Hook? 7 Recent Football Scandals

So in the aftermath of Deflategate, Tom Brady has been suspended for four games without pay, which will cost him just over $1.88 million in lost salary.  The Patriots themselves have been fined $1 million and will lose a first round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth rounder in 2017.  While Patriots owner Robert Kraft has stated that the team will not appeal its own punishments, Brady’s appeal through the Player’s Union to have his suspension reduced is ongoing.  With all this going on, now seems like a good time to do some comparison shopping and see both how the Deflategate penalties stack up against other recent football discipline and how likely it is that Brady will serve all four games of his suspension.

First up, lets see how other recent NFL rules infractions have been handled.  There were two major cases this past year:

1)  Let’s start with some Deflategate contemporaries.  First we have Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer who sometimes texted offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and other personnel during games.  Farmer was in the press box and the recipients were on the sideline.  Considering that other forms of communication between these two locations are allowed, its unclear what kind of advantage this would give the Browns.  However, there’s a rule against it so the NFL has suspended Farmer for four games and fined the Browns $250,000.

2) As far as actual cheating goes, there was one other major example last season besides Deflategate.  The Atlanta Falcons Director of Event Marketing, Roddy White, felt Atlanta football fans weren’t loud enough to distract opposing offensive players.  So he blared some extra crowd noise over the loudspeakers last season to up the ante.  (Please note that this is a different Roddy White from the Falcons’ wide receiver.  Yes, it is a bizarre coincidence that one football team has two employees with the same name.  Then again, the Bills have had 8 players named Williams on their roster in the past year, so perhaps not.) Anyways, The Falcons have been docked a 2016 fifth-round draft pick and fined $350,000.  In addition, Roddy White has been suspended for 8 weeks by the NFL; a suspension he will serve if he is ever hired by another NFL team after he was fired immediately by the Falcons.  If, like me, you completely missed this news the first time around, please don’t feel bad.  It’s important to remember that A) it is not possible that the Falcons won a Super Bowl because of this and B) Tom Brady is much easier to hate than Atlanta.

2.5)  I’d like a moment to notice that like Roddy White, Patriots equipment Employees James McNally and John Jastremski no longer have employment.  Fortunately, anyone who may or may not have put them up to it has Robert Kraft’s “unconditional support”.

Next, let’s take a look at some other high profile cases from the past few years to see how likely it is that Brady will serve his full sentence:

3)  I’d like to take you all the way back to when Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a bar in 2010.  He was originally suspended for the first six games of the season.  However, Roethlisberger eventually had the sentence reduced from six games to four for good behavior.

4)  Last year’s Ray Rice fiasco was a bit of a roller coaster.  First Rice was suspended for two games.  After the video of Rice hitting his fiancée surfaced and made the NFL look bad for its leniency, Goodell went to the opposite extreme and suspended Rice indefinitely.  However after an appeals board worked its way through the issue, the indefinite suspension was thrown out and Rice is currently eligible to return to the NFL.  The arbitrator determined that Goodell had all the facts before Rice’s original suspension and could not change Rice’s punishment without new information.  I’m not sure whether to be concerned that apparently it’s against the rules for Goodell to change his mind on something or to wonder if Goodell thought to argue that new alarming public opinion polls should constitute “new information.”  On a side note, the Bills seem to have a thing for both running backs and people in need of character rehab this offseason.  Any chance we’ll see Rice in Buffalo next year?

5) This one isn’t an NFL case, but it was a football PR nightmare.  When the revelations about Jerry Sandusky came out of Penn State, the school was handed some of the most severe sanctions in NCAA history.  These included a four-year postseason ban, loss of 40 scholarships, vacating of 111 wins during the period the NCAA felt Penn State officials knew but did nothing about Sandusky’s conduct, and a fine of $73 million ($60 million by the NCAA and $13 million by the conference).  This case is set apart from the others in this list in that the punishment feels like a real punishment, as it should.  Obviously there is no comparison between the actual crimes in this case and the simple cheating in many of the earlier NFL examples, but it does give some perspective as to how comically trivial a fine of, say, $500,000 is to an NFL team.  Despite the admirable decisiveness of the NCAA at the time, it should be noted that once the public outcry had died down, the NCAA a year later casually gave Penn State back all of its wins and most of its scholarships.  At least the fines and postseason ban remain in place.

6) Perhaps the best example of terrible follow-through is the Saints' Bounty scandal from 2012.  Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was the main organizer of the bounty programs and there is actual audio of him from a 2012 game against the 49ers directing his players to specifically target Michael Crabtree’s knee and to go after receiver Kyle William because of his history with concussions.  In the aftermath of the scandal, the NFL suspended him “indefinitely”.  Some outsiders might think “indefinitely” means “forever” but to the NFL it meant that Williams was back in the NFL one year later, working for the Tennessee Titans.  Goodell reinstated Williams on February 7, 2013 because, (and I swear I’m not making this up) Williams promised not to do it again.  If you’d like the less snarky version of that sentence, here’s the quote from the 2013 Associated Press article on the subject: “The league issued a statement saying that commissioner Roger Goodell cited several reasons for reinstating Williams, including that Williams accepted responsibility for his role in the bounty program, and pledged to never be involved in any pay for performance system and to teach safe play and respect for the rules.”

As for the players involved in the scandal, four were suspended for their involvement, most notably Jonathan Vilma who was suspended for the entire 2012 season.  Except that after appeals, Vilma played in 11 games for the Saints in 2012 and all the other player’s bans were removed as well.  The only person who remained punished was coach Sean Payton who actually sat out the whole season (his suspension was actually shorted by two weeks, but honestly, since the regular season was already over let’s just call it close enough, shall we?).

7) Last but not least, let us take a moment to consider the last time the Patriots' organization colored outside the lines.  In 2007, the Patriots were fined for videotaping their opponents’ defensive signals.  Interestingly, the taping itself was actually perfectly legal, it’s just the location of the taping that was illegal.  Taping cannot be done on the field, and so the Patriots were in violation of league rules.  If they had just taped signals from the press box or another location like a normal team they would have been fine.  In any case, the team was assessed $250,000 in fines and the loss of a 2008 first-round draft pick.  Belichick was fined $500,000.

In conclusion, I believe what we’ve learned is that punishment is a fluid thing and it is directly proportional to how bad the offense is making the league look at that particular moment.  Will Brady serve all 4 games?  My guess is that if everyone still seems really upset about it come September, yes?  If the news cycles have moved on to more pressing matters, then probably not.  At least that’s my take.  I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane.  If you’ve got a take on any of the above, please sound off in the comments below.