The Great Deflategate Debate: Tom Brady Vs. Ray Rice NFL Punishment

“You can’t compare a criminal act of domestic violence with a quarterback altering balls during a playoff game,” sports crisis management expert Michael Bilello tells TheWrap

Last Updated: May 12, 2015 @ 10:04 AM

The NFL came down hard on Tom Brady Monday, and the fact that the four game suspension for his alleged involvement in Deflategate is twice as long as Ray Rice’s initial punishment for assaulting his then-fiancee has sent New England Patriots fans into a frenzy.

However, the two cases are different, NFL experts say.

“The NFL fully admitted they made a mistake with Rice, then they came back with a much bigger punishment,” Sports Business Journal NFL writer Dan Kaplan told TheWrap. “Plus, that was a personal conduct issue [off the field] compared to something that affects the game,” Kaplan added.

Sports crisis management expert Michael Bilello agreed. “You can’t compare a criminal act of domestic violence with a quarterback altering balls during a playoff game,” said Bilello who is CEO of Centurion Strategies.

Many people believe that Rice deserved a much harsher punishment than a two game suspension for knocking Janay Palmer (now Rice) out in an Atlantic City elevator in February 2014. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell amended his initial ruling when a second video emerged and suspended the Baltimore Ravens player indefinitely.

Four-time Super Bowl champion QB Brady will miss the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as games against the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. He will return in Week 6 (the Patriots have a bye during Week 4) for a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, the same team that raised a red flag about Deflategate.

In addition to Brady’s suspension, the Patriots organization was fined $1 million and stripped of its first-round draft pick in 2016 and its fourth-round draft pick in 2017.

“That was a message sent to the team that all staff will be held accountable,” Bilello said. “Brady is the highest profile NFL player ever to be suspended — just to do that knowing how it impacts the team and the fan base, then this is a big punishment.”

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, issued a statement Monday saying they will appeal the suspension. “The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis,” Yee said. “I am very confident the Wells Report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic,” he continued. “The NFL has a well-documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions that often are overturned when truly independent and neutral judges or arbitrators preside, and a former federal judge has found the commissioner has abused his discretion in the past, so this outcome does not surprise me.”

Kaplan fully expects the suspension will be reduced following an appeal. “I think this is a negotiation phase,” he said, explaining that the NFL started with four games knowing that it could get negotiated down to two.  There “doesn’t seem to be any hard proof that Brady knew anything,” he said. But added, “They take it very seriously that Brady didn’t hand over his phone and his records. At the end of the day, Brady is an employee of the NFL and the integrity of the game was in question … he deserves the suspension for not cooperating.”

Kaplan also thinks the Patriots might appeal the $1 million fine and loss of key draft picks. “The team can argue that these were two rogue employees. The head coach has been exonerated, the owner has been exonerated — why are you punishing them for these clowns?”

One reason the team may have been hit with a seven figure penalty dates back to a 2007 videotaping incident against the New York Jets. “Part of the punishment this time around is to do with Spygate as this was their second time being accused of cheating,” Kaplan said. “They are basically two-time offenders.”

The current controversy surrounding Brady began after the 2014 AFC Championship game in which the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. Reports indicated that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for using balls that were not fully inflated – to supposedly make them easier to catch. Investigator Tom Wells said in his NFL-commissioned report last week that “it is more probable than not” that Brady knew the balls his team was using were under-inflated.

The Wells Report also stated that two Patriots officials, Jim McNally and John Jastremski, “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls.” The report suggested it was likely that Brady knew of the plan.

There’s no disputing Brady’s skills on the field, and his personal brand over the past 15 years has reached far beyond football with sponsors including Under Armour, Movado, Glaceau SmartWater and Uggs; and his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen. “Brady has too much brand equity to have this damage his personal brand,” Bilello said.

“This won’t be what he is known for when he is done playing the game,” he explained, adding: “That’s why the punishment shouldn’t be reduced. If you serve your time and you pay your dues, you are more likely to be forgiven.”