(Reuters) - The National Football League and its players union asked a federal judge to decide by Sept. 4 whether to uphold star New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, which could resolve the “Deflategate” scandal before the regular season starts.
Friday’s request by the NFL Players Association on behalf of Brady was a surprise. The union had been expected to ask U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan to delay any suspension until he could rule on its merits.
The union also formally asked Berman to void the suspension, preserving its legal options even as it agreed that resolving the matter before the regular season begins on Sept. 10 “would be in everyone’s best interest.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on July 28 confirmed Brady’s suspension over the quarterback’s alleged role in a scheme to deflate footballs in the Patriots’ 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a January playoff game.
That victory enabled the Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl, where they beat defending champion Seattle Seahawks 28-24.
The union said Goodell should not have been permitted to arbitrate Brady’s case after the commissioner had lauded findings by Ted Wells, a lawyer hired by the NFL to investigate what happened.
Wells blamed two Patriots employees, but his report said Brady was “at least generally aware” of the plan to deflate footballs, which can make them easier for quarterbacks to grip.
“It is hard to imagine any person in Goodell’s position even attempting to serve as arbitrator under these circumstances, but that is exactly what he did,” the union said. “This conduct shows not merely evident partiality but actual bias, rendering Goodell unfit to serve as arbitrator under any standard.”
In an order on Friday, Berman asked all sides to engage in “comprehensive, good-faith settlement discussions” prior to an Aug. 12 conference, which Goodell and Brady might attend.
The NFL and the union declined to comment on that request.
Brady’s suspension was originally recommended by the NFL’s vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent.
The league has said Goodell had the right to affirm it under its labor agreement with the union. Goodell also fined the Patriots $1 million and stripped them of two draft choices.
New England faces the Pittsburgh Steelers to begin the regular season. If the suspension were upheld, then Brady would not return until Oct. 11 when the Patriots visit the Colts.
Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Andrew Hay, Mohammad Zargham and David Gregorio