(Reuters) - The team behind Tom Brady ran defense for the star quarterback on Thursday after a report found he likely knew footballs were deflated to the New England Patriots’ advantage in a scandal that could lead to a multigame suspension and a tainted legacy.
As Brady’s agent issued a stinging rebuke of the findings, the National Football League clammed up the day after releasing the 243-page “Deflategate” report, refusing to give a timetable or range on possible sanctions against Brady or the Patriots.
The four-time Super Bowl winner and three-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player may make his first public comments later on Thursday when he is scheduled to speak at Salem State University, just north of Boston, and take questions.
The report brought the obscure subject of deflating footballs out of the sports realm as the accusations dogged Brady, one of the most prominent sport stars in the United States, and the Patriots, one of the NFL’s top teams over the last 20 years.
Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the NFL to investigate “Deflategate,” said in his report the Patriots probably deliberately deflated footballs in their 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18 in the AFC championship game that put them in the 2015 Super Bowl.
Brady, 37, a future Hall of Famer married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen, was probably “at least generally aware” of the violations, the report said.
Don Yee, Brady’s agent, said in a statement Thursday the report’s “omission of key facts ... suggest(s) the investigators reached a conclusion first, and then determined so-called facts later.”
As the NFL went through a tumultuous year that included high-profile cases of domestic abuse by players, Patriots owner Robert Kraft stood behind embattled Commissioner Roger Goodell, which some believe could affect how tough a penalty the league might hand down to Brady or the team.
Goodell said any discipline would be handled by Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, although observers think the commissioner could conceivably pull the strings behind the scenes.
“Roger Goodell is faced with making another decision, and the record shows he has had a tendency to take missteps on disciplinary decision-making,” Karen Boroff, a Seton Hall University Business School professor and Dean Emeritus, told Reuters.
“Discipline probably communicates more loudly than the mere words in a rules book what the organization values. If the organization values its rules, it will discipline those who violate them ... The owners and then Brady should face the most severe punishment,” Boroff said.
NFL sanctions could include Brady being suspended for a few games next season, fines for the team and the loss of draft picks.
“The Brady haters will hate, but at the very least even his most ardent fans must feel a sense of disappointment,” Hank Gola, NFL writer with the New York Daily News, told Reuters. “He can’t emerge unscathed, no matter where this goes from here.”
Kraft’s team has been caught trying to gain an edge before.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 in 2007 for illegally videotaping defensive signals from New York Jets coaches in what was dubbed “Spygate.”
The Patriots were also fined $250,000 and forfeited a first-round draft pick.
Other NFL teams have been punished recently for breaking rules.
This past March, the Atlanta Falcons were fined $350,000 and lost a draft pick in 2016 for piping in artificial noise to hinder visiting teams trying to call plays in the Georgia Dome.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington and Larry Fine in New York; editing by Mary Milliken, Jeffrey Benkoe and G Crosse