Are the vultures circling overhead? This article on Deadspin describes Arthur Blank's frustration with the increasingly litigious method of resolving disputes and discipline issues in the NFL.
The article fails to mention that Arthur Blank's team was punished for piping in crowd noise through the stadium speakers, to give the Atlanta defence an advantage. Which for the life of me I think the Seahawks also do, when at their stadium, there's this kind of rumble that comes on the speakers and whips up the fans, the 12th Man, into a frenzy, and dies away as the ball is about to be snapped. And it seems to work, the Chargers had a number of false starts, dagnabbit.
When this happened earlier this off-season, it didn't get much media scrutiny, and I wondered how much of the reason for that relatively lenient sentence was because the Falcons investigated themselves and reported their findings to the satisfaction of the league, and agreed to the penalty that was handed down without squawking. Which of course is the 'other way', the method that the Patriots decided not to follow.
The other aspect that must have played into the harsher treatment they received is how the Patriots got caught cheating before in the Spygate affair, and they got off relatively leniently, the league destroyed the tapes the team had obtained illegally and let them off the hook in terms of the possible public disgrace, in return for them coming clean and admitting their wrongdoing.
Instead, we all remember Bill Belichick's mealy-mouthed, rote response to questions by reporters, that they'd merely misinterpreted the rules, and then refused to broach this subject again. Sure Bill, you were the dumb one who couldn't understand that you can't film the opposition sideline and steal signals. But Rich Kotite grasped that complicated concept. Right.
And that's why the League, with Roger Goodell and the other owners apparently in lockstep, wanted to punish them harshly, for this transgression, and other indiscretions that they'd been suspected of, and when they wriggled out of the previous cheating scandal they were on the hook for. And the League thought it could run its league the way it sees best, within the boundaries of the law. And ran an investigation that brought up lots of circumstantial evidence but apparently not much substantial proof.
If you or I run a small business and find something wrong, like money missing from the till, we'll do an 'investigation', figure out what could have happened. If it's you and your wife and the other employee who had access to the register, it may come down that no one confesses, but you decided to terminate the employee, you and your wife wouldn't steal from yourselves. You have no 'proof', but you know what happened, and that's good enough.
That kind of conclusion is essentially what the League had against the Patriots, couldn't stick it on them, and Bob Kraft protested at the punishment his team got, notably the loss of a 1st-round draft pick, until the other owners probably got him to knuckle down. But then the League, since it couldn't pin this on Bill Belichick, tried to make Tom Brady pay for the sins of the father, but he had the gumption and the backing of the NFLPA to contest his suspension, and ultimately win out.
I have no doubt that Tom Brady did direct the behaviour of the equipment men who fiddled with the balls, and that he obstructed the investigation rather than cooperated. That's what the League will probably be furious about. They didn't have subpoena powers, couldn't investigate thoroughly, talk to everyone involved, yet are held to a high standard of proof by Judge Berman. They feel like the store owner in my example being forced by an external arbitrator to employ the the person he believes stole from them.
But this is the world the NFL is in right now. A 4-game suspension isn't just a sports issue now, there are tens of millions of dollars in the balance, you can't hand those out in a kangaroo court fashion, there has to be due process, or at least its appearance. The consequences are greater than letting go a minimum-wage worker from a nondescript job, the exposure much greater.
And now I wonder if Arthur Blank regrets just accepting the League's punishment. Or, more centrally, Sean Payton and the Saints, who took their medicine when their punishment was handed down in the Bountygate scandal. The players involved had their suspensions overturned, but the Head Coach lost an entire year of his career, a year of his earnings, and others in his staff received similar harsh sentences.
Roger Goodell, when he was rebuked by an arbitrator for the poor quality of the notes he took during the Ray Rice hearing, offered the feeble "I'm not a lawyer" excuse. He and the League have to realize this is intolerable, and they'll need to set up an internal arm to investigate and adjudicate these issues, and allow its Commissioner to have a more detached, dispassionate role. Whoever he may be.