NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday he has nothing personal against Tom Brady, but that the league is attempting to reinstate the Patriots quarterback's four-game suspension to uphold the integrity of the game.
In his first comments since Brady had his suspension vacated last month by U.S. Judge Richard Berman, Goodell also said there is more to the NFL's decision to appeal Berman's decision than just the individual case against Brady.
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"This isn't about any particular player, any particular incident," Goodell told reporters after an owners' meeting in New York. "It's simply about our rights under the collective bargaining agreement. This is about the right to have the authority to make sure we discipline."
Brady was suspended by the NFL for his alleged involvement in using purposely underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. In July, Goodell upheld the suspension after Brady had appealed it, but Berman overturned Goodell's decision in August. The judge said the NFL failed to give Brady adequate notice that he faced a suspension for his alleged misconduct, that Brady was denied the opportunity to interview NFL attorney Jeff Pash during his appeal and that the quarterback didn't have the ability to access investigative files related to his case.
The NFL immediately appealed Berman's decision, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals indicated last week that it would begin hearing arguments in the case in February.
Goodell said he has "a lot of respect and admiration for Tom. I know him personally. I admire him tremendously. But our rules apply to everybody. They apply to every single player."
Goodell added that the "integrity of our game" doesn't exempt anyone "because someone's popular or someone's a Super Bowl champ. They're applied evenly."
Goodell said he does not regret pursuing the case, or the fact that Berman's decision was perceived by many to be a major public relations blow to the league.
"I don't regret that, and we will continue to uphold the integrity of the game," he said. "We'll do that as vehemently as we can."
Goodell said he has had several discussions with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith about finding potential ways to change the league's system of discipline.
But the commissioner said he will only go so far.
"We are not in favor of third-party arbitration," Goodell said. "We've been very clear about that. But there are other alternatives. Whether they're in the context of a [CBA] extension, I don't know."
The league has adopted a system this year where footballs will be randomly tested for air pressure, but Goodell said he wasn't sure if the results of those tests would be made public.
"I think the most important thing we are trying to ascertain is that the balls in play are within the regulations that were established. We are a game of rules, and rules need to be followed by everyone."
Goodell said owners were updated on the potential relocation of one or two teams to the Los Angeles market, and that a potential vote could take place as soon as January. The Rams, Raiders and Chargers have all expressed interest in moving to Los Angeles, which has been without an NFL team since 1995.
"We have three teams that are interested [in moving] that have been struggling to get stadiums in their communities," Goodell said. "They have expressed a great deal of concern for the communities where they're playing now, wanting to be there, but also recognizing that we need to find long-term [stadium]solutions. There's also an interest in being back in the entertainment capital of the world."
Goodell expressed concern about a missed officiating call near the end of Monday night's Seahawks-Lions game, in which Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was not called for illegally batting the ball out of the end zone after Lions receiver Calvin Johnson fumbled near the goal line. But Goodell stopped short of endorsing an expansion of the instant replay system to include judgement calls.
"I think there are a lot of obstacles to having every play reviewed," Goodell said. "We've shown that we have improved the instant replay system through the years, and we will continue to do that."