The NFL on Tuesday upheld its four-game suspension of Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots — and said he had his phone destroyed just before he met with Deflate-Gate investigators.
The players union said it would appeal what they called an “outrageous decision." Unless Brady wins in court, he will sit out a quarter of the Patriots’ season as they defend their Super Bowl title.
"Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs," the NFL said in announcing the ruling.
Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote that Brady, one of the most marketable athletes in the sport, "engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football."
An investigator hired by the league concluded earlier this year that there was "substantial and credible evidence" that Patriots personnel deflated footballs before the AFC championship game, and that Brady knew about it. Brady has denied wrongdoing.
The NFL on Tuesday filed suit in federal court to confirm the suspension. Brady has authorized the player’s union, the National Football League Players Association, to appeal the suspension.
The NFLPA said it would appeal. The union said the league had no policy that applied to players, and the NFL violated the collective bargaining agreement.
The Patriots also defended their quarterback, and called the penalty excessive. "We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady," the team said.
"We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal,” the Patriots said in a statement. “Given all this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."
Read more from ProFootballTalk: Tom Brady’s agent calls NFL appeal process “a sham”
A football inflated under the minimum pressure can be easier to grip, especially in bad weather, as the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts faced in the championship game.
Besides the four-game suspension of Brady, the team was fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks.
Brady’s agent and attorney, Don Yee, said "the appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision."
"The commissioner's decision is deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness,” Yee said. “Most importantly, neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong. And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred.”
The NFL said that Brady had the phone destroyed just before he met with Ted Wells, the NFL investigator, on March 6. The destruction was not disclosed until June 18, the league said.
Brady told the league that he routinely has his old phone destroyed when he gets a new one. But he offered no explanation for why he had his phone destroyed just before the meeting after using it for four months, the commissioner said.
Yee said Brady and his representatives turned over "an unprecedented amount of electronic data" during the investigation. "Tom was completely transparent. All of the electronic information was ignored; we don't know why," Yee said.
The investigator's report also faulted a Patriots locker room attendant and an equipment manager and included incriminating texts between the two. One of them referred to himself as "the deflator."
John Jastremski, the equipment manager, texted Brady on Jan. 19, the day after the championship game: "Dave will be picking your brain later about it. He's not accusing me or anyone. Trying to get to the bottom of it. He knows it's unrealistic you did it yourself."