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(Reuters) - The NFL players union said its plans to call Commissioner Roger Goodell as a witness during the appeal of the four-game suspension handed to New England Patriots star Tom Brady for his role in the "Deflategate" scandal disqualifies Goodell from hearing the case.
In a letter to the league released on Friday outlining the grounds for the appeal, the union also said it will seek testimony from NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, who issued the penalty to Brady.
Goodell announced late Thursday he will preside over Brady's appeal, rejecting the NFLPA's request that an independent arbitrator hear the case because "neither Commissioner Goodell nor anyone with close ties to the NFL can serve as arbitrator in Mr. Brady's appeal under governing legal standards."
Brady was slapped with a four-game suspension, and the Patriots were fined a record $1 million and forced to surrender two draft picks after an investigator hired by the NFL determined the club purposely deflated the footballs in the AFC title game.
The Patriots, one of the league's most high-profile teams, and Brady, one of its top stars, have been at odds with the front-office of the most-popular U.S. sports league, which is looking to recover from a domestic abuse controversy that has engulfed the NFL for much of the last year.
Tom DePaso, the NFLPA general counsel who wrote the appeal letter, argued that Brady's punishment is "grossly inconsistent" with the NFL's prior penalties for comparable conduct.
He added that Goodell, not Vincent, is the only one who can punish Brady under the terms of the labor agreement.
"No player in the history of the NFL has ever
received anything approaching this level of discipline for similar behavior," the letter said.
Ted Wells, who took four months to investigate the case, determined that two members of the Patriots staff were responsible for letting the air out of the footballs and that Brady was likely generally aware of the scheme.
The Patriots, who have not yet said if they will appeal their penalties, said the investigation was filled with errors and makes faulty assumptions and DePaso agreed in his letter.
He said Wells' 243-page report "grasps at dubious, contradictory and mischaracterized circumstantial evidence merely to conclude that it is 'more probable than not' that Mr. Brady was 'generally aware of' 'inappropriate activities.'"
A football deflated below NFL standards would likely be easier to grip for Brady during the cold and misty conditions of the AFC championship. The Patriots routed the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to advance to the Super Bowl, which they won 28-24 over the Seattle Seahawks.
The NFL came under fire last year for its light sanctions against domestic violence committed by its players and has since revamped its personal conduct policy.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Alan Crosby