WASHINGTON • National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday upheld Tom Brady's suspension for his role in deflating footballs used in the game that put the New England Patriots in this year's Super Bowl, alleging that the star had his phone destroyed to keep evidence out of hands of investigators.
In the latest twist in the "Deflategate" scandal, Goodell said he affirmed the four-game suspension in part because Brady made "a deliberate effort" to keep investigators from reading text messages stored on the phone.
The four-time Super Bowl champion directed an assistant to destroy the phone and some 10,000 text messages on March 6. That was the day he was due to meet Ted Wells, an investigator hired by the league to examine allegations that Brady was complicit in a plan to tamper with the balls.
Wells said text messages between two Patriots employees implicated Brady in the plan.
The under-inflated footballs, which are easier to grip, were used in the American Football Conference title game in January, when New England beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. After beating the Colts, the Patriots edged out the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in the Super Bowl.
"Rather than simply failing to cooperate, Mr Brady made a deliberate effort to ensure that investigators would never have access to information that he had been asked to produce," Goodell wrote in his 20-page ruling.
Brady's wilful obstruction was more evidence in support of the investigation's finding that he participated in a scheme, the NFL chief said, adding that the episode had compromised public confidence in professional football.
Brady yesterday denied that he destroyed his cellphone to avoid giving it to investigators.
"I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances," Brady wrote on Facebook.
The case,which has dragged on for nearly 200 days, has divided fans across the nation, generated a debate over the integrity of the nation's most-watched sport and brought scrutiny to how the NFL treats misconduct among players.
The controversy has also cast a pall over the Patriots and will raise questions about Brady and his legacy on a team with a history of controversies. In 2007, the franchise was found to have illegally taped opposing coaches.
The latest accusation that Brady impeded the league's efforts may prompt some to abandon their sympathy for him, while undercutting some analysts who argued that the game balls did not have to be manipulated to lose air pressure.
Lawyers for Brady said he plans to take the case to federal court to overturn the suspension.
And the NFL's players' union said in a statement it would "appeal this outrageous decision".
The Patriots - who were fined US$1 million (S$1.37 million) and ordered to surrender two draft choices for their role in the scandal - said they were "extremely disappointed" in the ruling.
"It is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives," the team said in a statement.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES