(Reuters) - New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on Tuesday he will reluctantly accept rather than appeal a $1 million fine and loss of draft choices imposed by the NFL against the Super Bowl champions for the team’s role in the “Deflategate” scandal.
Electing not to escalate the Patriots’ confrontation with the league over the cheating controversy, Kraft said he disagreed with the NFL’s punishment but respected Commissioner Roger Goodell and wanted to end the “rhetoric” swirling around the issue since January.
The National Football League punished the Patriots, one of the league’s most successful franchises, for purposely deflating footballs used in the team’s 45-7 playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts that put New England in the Super Bowl. The NFL imposed a record fine and took away New England’s 2016 first-round draft choice and a 2017 fourth-round pick.
At a news conference at an NFL owners meeting in San Francisco, Kraft said, “I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months.”
He said he was “going to accept, reluctantly” the penalty given by the league and “not continue this dialogue and rhetoric. We won’t appeal.”
In addition to the actions against the club, the NFL suspended star quarterback Tom Brady, one of the league’s biggest stars, without pay for the first four games of next season but Brady is appealing his punishment..
The players union on Tuesday formally requested that Goodell recuse himself as the arbitrator in Brady’s case, saying his “history of inconsistently issuing discipline ... makes him ill-suited to hear this appeal in a fair-minded manner.”
Kraft was a key ally of Goodell when the commissioner faced close scrutiny for his discipline of players involved in domestic violence incidents.
Tuesday’s remarks on “Deflategate” represented a change in tone for Kraft, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing by the Patriots. The team last week issued a blistering rebuttal to the NFL’s investigation into how footballs were deflated below league standards in the AFC title game, calling it incomplete, incorrect and out of context.
The report by Ted Wells, an investigator hired by the NFL, said two Patriots employees, officials’ locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski, carried out the plan.
The report said Brady was likely aware of the scheme to deflate the footballs, which could allow the quarterback to better grip the ball.
“I might disagree with what was decided,” Kraft said of the Patriots’ penalty. “But I do have respect for the commissioner and believe that he is doing what he believes is in the best interest of the full 32 (teams).”
The scandal erupted in the run-up to the Feb. 1 Super Bowl in which New England defeated the Seattle Seahawks.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham and Bill Trott