Patriots Owner Slams NFL: "This Was Never About Doing What Was Fair and Just"
A day after Tom Brady's four-game suspension was upheld, Bob Kraft said at a Wednesday news conference that he was wrong to trust the league and regrets not appealing the Deflategate penalties imposed on his team.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady vowed to fight his four-game suspension on Wednesday, and team owner Robert Kraft opened training camp by saying he continues to "believe and unequivocally support" the three-time Super Bowl MVP.
"I was wrong to put my faith in the league," Kraft said.
Taking the podium a day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Brady's four-game suspension, Kraft angrily targeted the league for its handling of the case.
"The decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me," he said. "I have come to the conclusion that this was never about doing what was fair and just."
Brady was suspended four games and the team was docked $1 million and two draft picks after the league determined that the team provided improperly inflated footballs in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Investigator Ted Wells zeroed in on two equipment managers — one who called himself "The Deflator" — and said Brady was "at least generally aware" of the illegal deflation scheme.
The team has denied wrongdoing, but it fired the two equipment managers whose text messages included discussions of football inflation.
Kraft said he expected Brady's suspension to be reduced on appeal, and repeated the team's claim that the league failed to prove its case.
"Six months removed from the AFC championship game, the league still has no hard evidence of anybody doing anything to tamper with the PSI levels of footballs," Kraft said. "I was willing to take the harshest penalty in the history of the NFL for an alleged violation of ball tampering because I hoped it would exonerate Tom."
Brady broke his silence in a 507-word Facebook post earlier Wednesday in which he denied destroying his cellphone to keep it out of the hands of investigators.
"To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong," the three-time Super Bowl MVP said. "There is no 'smoking gun' and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact they have zero evidence of wrongdoing."
Kraft said that the league's claim that Brady trashed his cellphone was just the latest in a series of statements and leaks designed to impugn the integrity of the team and Brady, whom he called "a person of great integrity, and a great ambassador of the game both on and off the field."
The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl for their fourth NFL title under Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
Brady, who had earlier denied cheating accusations with the tepid "I don't think so," more forcefully defended himself in the Facebook post, claiming he cooperated with the investigation except where doing so would have set a bad precedent for his union brethren.
"I respect the Commissioner's authority, but he also has to respect the [collective bargaining agreement] and my rights as a private citizen," Brady wrote. "I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight."
Much of the post involved an explanation of Brady's cellphone swap, which was cited by Goodell as new evidence of the quarterback's failure to cooperate. Brady said he replaced a broken phone only after his lawyers told the league they couldn't have it.
"Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January," he wrote.
Brady's comments came a few hours before the Patriots opened training camp and the defense of their Super Bowl title. The post was liked by 51,000 people — including his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen — in the first 30 minutes after it was posted on Facebook.
Belichick had been scheduled to speak to the media at 10 a.m. in the Gillette Stadium press box. But instead Kraft took the podium first, apologizing to the team's fans for giving in to the league rather than fight the unprecedented penalties against the team.
Belichick declined to comment on the scandal.
"Nothing to talk about there," he said.