NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the league's decision to appeal a judge's ruling to overturn his four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady over his alleged role in using purposely deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.
"You have to have the long-term view with litigation," Goodell said in an interview on the Mike & Mike Show on ESPN Radio Tuesday morning. When asked why the league continues to engage in so many legal battles with the players, even after many of those decisions are either reduced or overturned on appeal, the commissioner replied, "You have to understand you're not going to win them all."
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But he cited at least one case, involving an appeals court's decision to overturn an initial victory by former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett to be granted early eligibility to the NFL, as reason for continuing to pursue legal challenges when appropriate.
Goodell also said he is open to creating a new disciplinary system in partnership with the NFL Players Association so similarly contentious penalties can be avoided in the future.
"We want to get to a better disciplinary system," he said. "We're open to that. We've had several discussions with the union about that. I believe that we can do that here, where we can come up with changes.
"I am very open to changing my role in that," he said. "It's become very time consuming, and I think I have to focus on a variety of other issues."
He noted that the league might be willing to appoint a disciplinary officer in appropriate cases, and that a designated person also could be appointed to oversee the appeals process.
"We've had plenty of discussions [with the NFLPA] on this," Goodell said. "I spoke to [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice [Smith] last week before this decision [to overturn the Brady suspension]. Regardless of this [decision], we need to sit down to see how we can get to a better position. Those things have to be determined by us in collective bargaining. They have been in the past and they should be going forward.
"We have done that in our drug and steroid program. I believe we can do that here," he said.
Asked about why some disciplinary penalties seemed much harsher than others, and why Goodell suspended Brady the equivalent of a first-time offender in the league's steroids policy, the commissioner said, "When it comes to competitive violations, those are very important to us. The appeal of our game is that we're all playing by the same rules. When someone seeks to gain an advantage outside of those rules, that's something that has to be discussed. It wasn't that we were saying it's the same circumstance [as using steroids], but someone was trying to gain a competitive edge."
Goodell said the month-long suspension also was designed to serve as a deterrent for others who might consider breaking the rules. In addition to Brady's suspension, the NFL also took away the Patriots' first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-rounder in 2017 and fined the team $1 million. The stiff penalties were meted out "so you can prevent this behavior going forward."
Goodell upheld Brady's suspension after presiding over a 10-hour appeal hearing on June 23. Goodell heard from Brady and attorney Jeffrey Kessler. But two people not at the hearing were Patriots equipment staffers Jim McNally and John Jastremski, who were cited in Ted Wells' extensive report as having been involved in the deflation of the footballs.
Asked why the NFL wouldn't speak further to them, Goodell said the matter was brought up at the hearing. Goodell said the NFLPA and NFL Management Council decided against hearing further from them.
"I asked both parties [NFLPA and Management Council] toward the end of the hearing whether I should hear from [McNally and Jastremski], but both parties, particularly the union side, didn't feel it was a necessary step. I think they are important figures in this, but chose not to go ahead [with interviewing them]."
Goodell said he wasn't aware of an ESPN report issued earlier in the day that suggested his heavy-handed discipline in Deflategate was linked to a perception by many executives around the league that he was too lenient with the Patriots in the 2007 Spygate controversy. Goodell fined, but did not suspend Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who acknowledged that his team had illegally videotaped opposing teams' defensive signals on the sidelines. The ESPN article said the Patriots' use of videotaping signals was more widespread than the league has previously acknowledged.
"I haven't seen this report, but I can just tell you that I'm not aware of any connection between the Spygate procedures and the procedures we went through here," he said. "There's no connection in my mind to two incidents."
However, NFL vice president Troy Vincent, in announcing the league's penalties against Brady and the Patriots for Deflategate, said the severe penalties were partly the result of the Patriots' past cheating associated with the Spygate scandal.
Goodell said his relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft remained good, despite Kraft's repeated criticism over the league's handling of the Deflategate issue.
"We may disagree on this issue, but Robert and I continue to have a very strong relationship," Goodell said. "We continue to work on league matters important to us. We disagree on this issue, but it's a respectful disagreement."
Goodell has said he will not attend the Thursday night opener between the Patriots and Steelers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, in part because he doesn't want to be a distraction.
"The focus should be on football," he said. "I certainly don't want to be a distraction. Everyone wants to get back to football."