On Thursday, a federal judge lifted Tom Brady's four-game suspension — not because Brady wasn't involved in the Deflategate scandal, but because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apparently didn't have the authority to suspend Brady, based on the players' union's collective bargaining agreement with the league. Judge Richard Berman's 40-page decision said that "general awareness" of others' wrongdoings (in reference to the staff members who allegedly deflated footballs before January's championship game) was not grounds for suspension. No policy or precedent says that players can be punished just for knowing about someone else breaking the rules. Now that his suspension has been lifted, the big question is: Will Brady play in the Patriots' first game? The athlete's legal troubles aren't over quite yet.
After an investigation into Deflategate by lawyer Tom Wells concluded that Brady was "at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities," Goodell suspended Brady for four games, fined the Patriots $1 million, and stripped the team of its 2016 first-round draft pick and 2017 fourth-round pick.
However, Judge Berman ruled that the NFL did not give Brady sufficient notice of his possible punishment. The decision read: "The court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs, and noncooperation with the ensuing investigation."
The decision to lift the suspension doesn't necessarily mean that Brady's in the clear, though. Goodell announced not long after the decision that the NFL will appeal Judge Berman's ruling:
We will appeal today's ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game. The commissioner's responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.
Despite an appeal, Brady won't have to stay on the bench. The Boston Globe's Ben Volin reported that the NFL will not seek a stay of Berman's ruling, which would have kept Brady from playing in the first game, despite his suspension being lifted. So it looks like Brady will be the starting quarterback against the Steelers on September 10, although he might have to return to court later on. If the NFL wins its appeal, Brady's four-game suspension could be reinstated once the season has started.