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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can suit up for his team’s season opener after a judge erased his four-game suspension for “Deflategate.”
The surprise ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman came Thursday after more than one month of failed settlement talks between the NFL and its players’ union. Many legal experts believed the judge was merely pressuring the sides to settle when he criticized the NFL’s handling of the case at two hearings in August.
But the judge wasn’t posturing.
He came out forcefully in Brady’s favor, maligning the NFL for its handling of the scandal that erupted after the AFC championship game in January, when officials discovered during the first half that Brady used underinflated footballs. New England beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 then won the Super Bowl two weeks later.
An NFL investigation led to Brady’s suspension, which Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld.
Goodell says the league will appeal the federal judge’s ruling.
The NFL commissioner said in a statement Thursday that it’s paramount to protect the integrity of the game and his office’s responsibilities under the collective bargaining agreement with players.
Despite the plans to appeal, the league isn’t seeking an emergency stay, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, freeing Brady to play while an appeals court considers the case. The Patriots open their season Sept. 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the NFL Players Association says the judge overturning Brady’s suspension shows that Goodell needs to act fairly.
DeMaurice Smith said in a statement Thursday that the players’ contract does not allow Goodell to be arbitrary and misleading when he uses his power to discipline players.
Smith says the judge’s decision should signal to all NFL team owners that collective bargaining is better than legal losses, leading to “far better results.”
Hours after the ruling, Patriots owner Robert Kraft says his team can finally return its focus from “Deflategate” to the game on the field.
Kraft said in a statement Thursday that he is grateful for the judge’s “thoughtful” decision to overturn Brady’s suspension.
Kraft says Brady is of the “highest integrity” and represents everything that is great about football and the NFL.
Kraft says the league’s lawyers insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted discipline, despite having no evidence of wrongdoing.
On Thursday, Donald Trump congratulated Brady on the ruling.
Congratulations to Tom Brady on yet another great victory- Tom is my friend and a total winner!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2015
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