SALEM, Massachusetts (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.
Meanwhile, Brady said, “No, absolutely not,” when asked if “Deflategate” tainted the team’s 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
The four-time Super Bowl winner and three-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player was muted in his remarks Thursday night in a previously scheduled speech at Salem State University north of Boston.
Brady said “hopefully soon” when asked when he would discuss the matter publicly.
“There is still a process that is going forth right now and I am involved in that process,” he said. “Whenever that happens, it happens. I certainly want to be very comfortable in how I feel about the statements that I make.”
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 the allegations, 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.
Asked at Salem State if he cared what people thought about him, Brady replied: “As a human, you care what people think. I certainly care what the people that are close to me think and what they care about.
“I think also as a public figure, you learn that not everyone is going to like you either. So, good, bad, indifferent, there’s a lot of people that don’t like Tom Brady, and I’m okay with that.”
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 some observers have said 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, G Crosse and Ken Wills