Tom Hays and Larry Neumeister
NEW YORK — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady attended last-minute settlement talks between the NFL and its players union Monday before a judge announced he would decide the dispute over deflated footballs with a ruling in a day or two.
Everyone involved “tried quite hard” to reach a deal in the controversy that has hung over professional football since New England easily won the AFC title game in January, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said in federal court in Manhattan.
However, Berman said: “We did not reach a settlement. … In some cases, it doesn’t happen and this is one of those cases.”
Absent a compromise, Berman will have to either affirm or throw out Goodell’s decision in July to uphold a four-game suspension of Brady. The NFL concluded the quarterback colluded with two Patriots ball handlers to deflate footballs to gain an edge in a 45-7 victory over the Colts. The NFL Players Association has accused the league of handling the discipline unfairly for Brady, who has denied any role in the scandal nicknamed “Deflategate.”
Speaking at a hearing that lasted less than five minutes, Berman noted that senior executives from the league and the players union who had not attended several previous settlement talks joined more than an hour of negotiations Monday morning.
Giants president and co-owner John Mara took part, as did free agent kicker Jay Feely, Berman said. Feely is a member of the union’s executive committee and Mara is chairman of the NFL’s executive committee that oversees labor matters.
“For us it reinforces the desire and the need for an independent arbitrator in these matters of personal conduct,” Feely said outside court. “But we understand Tom’s position and I think the process will work itself out.”
Berman said he’s putting the final touches on his decision.
“It won’t be today, but hopefully tomorrow or the day after,” he said of a written ruling. Berman said previously that he hoped to rule by Friday, giving the Patriots enough time to prepare for their Sept. 10 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Berman had ordered Goodell and Brady to attend Monday’s hearing. Both arrived 90 minutes early to participate in talks in the judge’s robing room. Neither spoke inside or outside court.
Berman has said a settlement would be “rational and logical” but also cited weaknesses in the way the NFL handling of the controversy. The judge has also suggested that the league’s finding was too vague, that Brady was generally aware that game balls were being deflated.
At a court hearing this month, Berman told the NFL there was precedent for judges to toss out penalties issued by arbitrators.
On Monday, courtroom artist Jane Rosenberg returned to court after taking heat on social networks for a sketch that critics said made Brady look like an aging cartoon villain.
Outside court afterward, she smiled as she posed with a new drawing that put Brady in a more flattering light, perhaps capturing the more relaxed demeanor he displayed in court during his second trip there.
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