Deflategate as Union Issue

A now-famous courtroom sketch at a hearing in federal court

What's happening?


On January 18th, the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. As usual, before the game the Patriots footballs (each time uses their own) were checked by officials and found to be properly inflated. At halftime, when checked again, a now-disputed number of balls were found to be illegally under-inflated. Under-inflated balls are easier to throw and catch, which led to the accusation that the Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady, had cheated. 


Media frenzy ensued


The NFL investigation (Wells Report) found suspicious behavior by equipment staff Jim McNally and John Jastremski and concluded it was "more probable than not" that the Patriots deliberately underinflated balls and that Brady knew about it. The team was stripped of two draft picks and fined $1 million; Brady was suspended for four games.


The team declined to appeal but issued a point by point rebuttal


Brady appealed and won. Judge Richard Berman overturned the NFL's suspension and admonished NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's "brand of industrial justice." As Brady rejoins his team to begin the season, the NFL says they will appeal.


Why is this important?


This is bigger than the NFL. The league's disciplinary process will likely undergo some changes, which in turn will reflect on shifting relations between unions and employers.


Most relevantly, much of Judge Berman's ruling focused on unfair aspects of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL Players' Association (NFLPA) and the NFL. Judge Berman's verdict repudiated the NFL's violations of due process rights. In doing so, he draws attention to unfair or exploitative collective bargaining agreements in general.


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