New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at an event at Salem State University on May 7, 2015. (Charles Krupa/AP)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at an event at Salem State University on May 7, 2015. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Brady: A modern-day Nixon

Well, so much for the 2024 presidential bid. Unless you are Nixonian in your political bent, you’ll understand why Tom Brady has lost all credibility not only as an American hero but as someone who deserves not even a saliva spit of support in the Deflategate scandal. It’s one thing to argue that Brady, in the AFC championship game, performed better with footballs that were properly inflated in the second half than with purposely underdeflated balls in the first half.

But no one, not family or friends or his union, can seriously defend him now after Brady told a personal assistant to destroy Brady’s cellphone before a critical meeting with investigator Ted Wells. If true, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday in upholding Brady’s four-game ban, it means “The Man Every Other Male Aspires To Be” and “The Greatest Quarterback Of All Time” has committed these sins:

1. He knowingly participated in a scam with team equipment managers to deflate footballs, which gave him a competitive advantage while violating league rules. That makes him a cheater.

2. He denied participating in the scam. That makes him a liar.

3. He had an associate destroy the smoking phone and, by extension, the probable incriminating evidence on that phone, meaning he refused to cooperate. That makes him a cover-up artist.

Is it possible four games aren’t enough, then, that Brady should have been banned for the entire season? The question is fair when football’s most celebrated star, one of the most accomplished athletes in this country’s history, impugns his sport’s integrity. Rather than coming out and copping — “Yeah, I have smaller hands, and I like to have my guys release air pressure, and I’m sorry I involved them with the texts, and I am human and make errors” — he tried to compromise the probe the way his coach, Bill Belichick, compromised an entire sport with a spying episode. Given New England’s status as a dynasty, with four Super Bowl titles in the 21st century, Brady’s continuing defiance is raising the same doubts about the Patriots that the Steroids Era did about Major League Baseball.

How much of their success is real, how much is deceitful? And why would anyone still consider Brady and Belichick to be in the same zip code as Joe Montana and Bill Walsh, who didn’t have to participate in conspiracies to win their rings?

The problem isn’t simply that Brady was underdeflating footballs. It’s how he tried to get away with his ruse after he was caught because, hey, he’s Tom Brady and he’s smarter than the rest of us.

Not so. Wells was smarter, deciphering that Brady had the cellphone destroyed, an admission of guilt if there ever was one.

“He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone,” Goodell said in his appeals decision. “During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device.”

And to think Patriots owner Robert Kraft demanded an apology from Goodell many weeks ago, while commentators have chastized the commissioner for mishandling the case. Even Tuesday, Kraft joined NFLPA officials in ripping the decision, with the team saying in a statement, “We cannot comprehend the league’s position in this matter. Most would agree the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing. We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal. Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives.”

But for once, in a tenure tarnished by his irresponsible handling of the Ray Rice case and an erratic record of off-field punishments in general, Goodell seems to be spot-on. He could have waffled and given weight to his all-but-dead friendship with Kraft, who defended Goodell publicly and in ownership circles as he was attacked amid the Rice fallout. But this time, he stood firm in front of the league’s so-called shield and avoided all wishy-washiness. Harmful as the Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson abuse cases have been to the league’s image and reputation, maintaining the game’s competitive integrity is vitally important, too, particularly when it involves the league’s most visible and acclaimed player.

Which is why the NFL, anticipating a Brady challenge in federal court, defended its right to dole out such discipline by filing an action Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The league cited “conduct that [Goodell] determines is detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

What we have now is Brady, in frantic image-restoration mode, legally challenging the ruling and seeking an injunction allowing him to play. As seen in the cases of Rice and Aaron Hernandez and Michael Vick and a life-and-death concussions crisis, the league has another off-field drama that could swallow a season. If Brady was smart, he’d accept his four games and go away. It’s hard to believe even the most venomous Goodell critic would side with Brady now. He will argue the Wells report is flawed and the ball-deflation rules were unfairly applied. Um, why would an innocent man destroy a phone that could help him if wronged?

“Especially in light of the new evidence introduced at the hearing — evidence demonstrating that he arranged for the destruction of potentially relevant evidence that had been specifically requested by the investigators — my findings and conclusions have not changed in a matter that would benefit Mr. Brady,” Goodell said.

Team Brady’s response? “Neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong,” agent Don Yee said. “And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred. The appeal process was a sham.”

For the record, there was no denial that the smoking phone was destroyed.Aaron HernandezAdrian PetersonBill BelichcikBill WalshDeflategateDon YeeGreg HardyJoe MontanaMichael VickNew England PatriotsRay RiceRobert KraftRoger GoodellTed WellsTom Brady

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