JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday it’s his responsibility to hear directly from New England quarterback Tom Brady in his appeal of his four-game suspension in the deflated footballs case.
Goodell said he has not had time to study a request from the players’ union that he recuse himself from the appeal because he has been focused on the spring owners meetings that concluded Wednesday.
He said he would study the request when he returned to New York but added that unless there is a factor that he is unaware of he will likely hear the case.
“It’s my job here to make sure we’re doing everything to protect the integrity of the game, protect our policies, protect our procedures,” Goodell said. “We have a process that has been negotiated with the union that has been in place for decades. It’s my responsibility and it’s something that we’ve had in place for a long time.”
Goodell said no date has been set for the appeal.
The CBA reached in 2011 to end the lockout gave Goodell the right to hear the appeal; only the commissioner can punish players for conduct detrimental to the league. But the NFL Players Association claims if he delegates his authority to discipline players, it’s invalid, and if he handles it himself, he is no longer impartial.
When NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season, he cited Brady’s lack of cooperation in refusing to turn over his cellphone records as one of the reasons for the hefty punishment.
Goodell said he is open to seeing those records during the appeal and that could play a role in a possible reduction of the suspension for Brady’s role in the use of underinflated footballs in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“I look forward to hearing directly from Tom if there’s new information or information that can be helpful to us in getting this right,” Goodell said. “I want to hear directly from Tom in that.”
A four-time Super Bowl champion and the face of the most successful NFL franchise of this century, Brady was found in the investigation conducted by attorney Ted Wells — who was hired by the league — to be “at least generally aware” of a scheme to illegally deflate footballs used in the conference title game.
Goodell said it is difficult to suspend anyone but that the integrity of the league is paramount.
“I have great admiration and respect for Tom Brady,” he said. “But the rules have to be enforced on a uniform basis and they apply to everybody. They apply to every club, every individual coach and every player.”
Vincent also fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks, a first-rounder next year and a fourth in 2017.
New England owner Robert Kraft said Tuesday he will not appeal the team’s penalty and declined to comment further on the case Wednesday before leaving the meetings. Goodell said that decision will have no impact on Brady’s appeal.
“The decision that Robert made was his decision,” Goodell said. “I admire and respect Robert. We’ve had plenty of discussions over the last couple of weeks. This was his initiative, something he wanted to do and I certainly admire the step he took. We may disagree on things. It’s not unusual when that happens.”
Goodell also said there was discussion at these meetings about changing the procedures for how footballs are handled before games but expects some new rules to be in place for the upcoming season.
“It’s something important that the chain of custody and everything is watched really closely going forward,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said.
Irsay declined to comment on Kraft’s decision not to appeal or the punishments handed down by the league. He said the game Oct. 18 between the teams, which could be Brady’s first game back if the suspension is not reduced, will be a “huge, huge game.”
“We’ve enjoyed the rivalry,” Irsay said. “We’ve had some of the greatest games together. We really look forward to the game this year and hope there’s more than one.”
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