The NFL starts its season this week. One of the marquee games this weekend is Sunday night when the New England Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals in Arizona. It’s a marquee game because the Patriots are the Patriots and Arizona is the up and coming team in the NFC.
The game has, of course, become pretty much ‘must see’ just as much for who’s not playing Sunday evening – Tom Brady.
Brady begins his four game suspension Sunday for the ‘Deflategate’ matter. At this point if you’re remotely familiar with Deflategate, any recitation of the facts would be nails-on-chalkboard- grating, so let’s assume we all know the facts.
Over the last 18 months of the Deflategate insanity, a number of writers and commentators (sport and otherwise) have gone on and on about Brady, Goodall, Deflategate, and its application to the criminal justice system.
So, are there any lessons to be learned from this debacle? Well, yes, but probably not what you would think. After all, when it comes down to it, this is really an issue in which a billionaire (Robert Kraft) supporting a multi-millionaire (Brady) married to another multi-millionaire (please) are fighting with a multi-millionaire (Goodall) who represents a multi-billion-dollar corporation (the NFL) that the first billionaire is also a member off. That pretty much bears little relationship to the criminal justice system, especially when you remind yourself that the only thing that was ever at risk in the whole mess was Brady missing four games; no one faced probation, prison, etc.
Some of the process, however, i.e. how we got here a Monday away from the lead sports story around the nation starting with “Tom Brady was not in Arizona last night, and …” is instructive.
It’s pretty much become an accepted fact – even for Brady haters (and there are a lot of us) – that The Wells Report, the investigative report conducted by the law firm that also represents the NFL, was unfair and biased. The science was dreadful (really, anyone who drives in winter knows what happens to tires in the cold), the assumptions slanted from the start, it looked as if the NFL conducted an investigation solely to prove its theory.
The report even cited Brady’s destruction of his cell phone as proof of guilt, as in ‘he did it to get rid of text evidence’. This despite that fact that any 13-year-old will tell you that texts live forever, they don’t exist only on the phone.
That is what investigations do. When people use the phrase ‘build a case’ they mean just that. Investigators take bits and pieces and, to quote Paul Simon, ‘hints and allegations’ and put a presentable case together. The final presentation is not a thorough examination of every angle of case and a deep exploration of innocence or guilt and alternative theories and what ifs. That’s why it’s called a prosecution.
The case against Brady was built by people who saw enough early on to assume he was guilty of something, who knew the Patriots had been guilty of other things over the years and put it all together. Wells is a very good attorney; he wrote up a very good case. Flawed, but logical and well-presented and, on the surface, quite damning.
Up to this point, this is how the criminal justice system works. In my last post I wrote about why you do not talk to authorities without a lawyer – this is the reason why.
The thing about the Brady matter, the thing that has, rightfully, maddened so many people, is that in this case Brady’s investigator, judge, jury, and sentencing authority were the same man – Roger Goodall.
And, that’s the other thing to take out of all this. In the real world – that would be the world the NFL is largely unacquainted with – the accused gets every opportunity to refute the case put together by the experts in putting together cases. And, they get to do it systematically, over time, at first in discussions with a prosecutor, then before an impartial judge.
There’s one key to all this, one key to picking apart an investigation, presenting your story clearly, concisely, and with acceptable intensity: having an experienced attorney representing you from the start.