THE BLOG
07/31/2015 01:34 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2016

On Deflategate, Tom Brady, Unions, Roger Goodell and Unaccountable Power

A few observations about deflate-gate:

1) George Atallah, a representative for the NFL Players' Association, was on Mike and Mike Thursday morning to explain why and how the union would be defending Brady against the now-upheld four-game suspension. Atallah very ably explained what the union views as the major problems with the deflategate case. He noted that the league and the union have clearly and specifically collectively bargained both process and punishments for a whole range of equipment related violations. But there is nothing in connection with deflated footballs. As a result, both the process and punishments handed down in this case are, as Atallah put it, simply made up. Atallah also made an interesting point about the Patriots' original decision not to contest the league's punishment against the franchise and that that decision is now being held against them in some corners. Atallah noted that the union is often criticized for defending players against every violation of their due process rights. But, Atallah said, this was precisely why the union was so resolute in doing so: even seemingly minor instances of due process shortcuts could augur more serious ones down the road. In other words, a line needs to be held in order to ensure that, in future circumstances, players get the fairest possible shake.

2) Much of the public's negative reaction to sports labor unions derives from the fact that players live such privileged lives, financially and otherwise, that they don't deserve more than they already have. There is also a popular tendency to bristle at legal parsing in the face of what many folks think is "common sense." Finally and perhaps most importantly, we Americans have, by and large, come to accept that we have relatively little power in our work lives, that our employers sort of own us, at least during the work day. It's a quite abject reality in a country that prides itself on its culture of individual empowerment -- that we are sheep in the face of those who write our paychecks. But, perhaps paradoxically, it has bred a culture of resentment less towards bosses than towards unions and those who actually enjoy their protections.

I am, of course, much more concerned with the attack on public sector and private unions the length and breadth of the land -- and the teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses, factory workers and others who are in the cross-hairs of that attack -- than with whether Tom Brady ends up having to sit four games this season. But for anyone who is uncomfortable with the arbitrary and unaccountable authority of Commissioner Goodell -- which probably includes *a lot* of New Englanders right about now -- it's worth thinking about what it means to place few limits on the authority of bosses and managers in workplaces throughout the country.

3) On a related note, maybe Robert Kraft should now think twice about the monster that he himself helped to create. I've said this before, but it bears repeating -- it's hard to overstate how much the owners, the media and fans were cheerleaders for Goodell when he first rode into the commissioner's office on his white horse, promising to clean up the image of the league and dispensing swift and sure punishment to those "thugs" and "hooligans" populating NFL rosters. There was a near consensus in support of Goodell's "personal conduct" policy, as if a guy who got his job by being a dutiful functionary for a quarter of a century suddenly possessed the wisdom necessary to adjudicate right and wrong in a broad, moral sense, and to ably balance and anticipate changing norms in a complex society.

That faith in Goodell has long since blown up in the league's face and on matters of much greater consequence than the air pressure in footballs.

You can check out my musings on ESPN and other sports media here.