There are plenty of people that feel as if the NFL was unjustified or extraordinarily harsh on Tom Brady and the Patriots in regards to deflate gate. Brady forced the leagues hand and it had to respond in such a manner. This decision was paramount to the Brand of the NFL itself, and I'll gladly explain why. It's also important to remember that the NFL has always been self-serving, and will protect "The Shield" by any means. With that said, I don't disagree with the rationale behind suspending Brady.
Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback ever to play the game, and quarterback is without a doubt the most important position in the NFL, so in a way you could argue that Brady may be the most valuable player to ever play in the NFL. The fact that his teams have won so often, and played in 6 Super Bowls support that statement. That is also why the NFL had to be harsh in it's punishment, it looks too bad for a player who is one of the primary faces of the league to be caught up in a cheating scandal. There are teams and players that everyday unknowingly break the
rules of the NFL. If that was the case here, it wouldn't be a big deal,
but intent matters and Tom Brady intent was to circumvent the rules.
They had a deliberate scheme to change the pressure in the balls after
they had already been officially check. Could you imagine if LeBron James intentionally circumvented the rules in basketball? How bad would that look for the NBA. Sport leagues are their stars, and the NFL could not allow it to appear as if one of their biggest stars intentionally circumvented the rules and won championships and they turned the other cheek. It would be a substantial blow to its brand.
Speaking of brand, despite the fact that it may be a sham, "ethics" matter. If they didn't, Track & Field, Boxing, Cycling, and Baseball wouldn't have lost as much ground to the NFL and NBA as they have done over the years. This deflate-gate situation brought into question the integrity of the league. Even though the overall advantage granted to the Patriots can not be accurately quantified, it still does not allow them to bend rules however they see fit. Integrity is so important to selling the brand of the NFL and sports in general because there is no way to control the quality of the product. No one can predict the quality of a game beforehand, the only thing you have to sell is the fact that both teams have an "equal" chance of success under the rules. If teams and players can change or bend rules they think aren't important, then what guarantee can the NFL provide consumers (ummm I mean fans)? I know for one, I'm not as excited about spending my money on an intangible unknown product, without at least some assurances. If there are no ethics in sports then what is the point? The NFL is a highly regulated league, and all of its regulations do not provide a distinct competitive advantage, and that is not the intentions of those regulations either. The regulations are there to provide uniformity throughout the league, which is important for the NFL brand. We buy into the hype of big games, because those regulations provide assurances that each team got there "Equally", that a win in September at Baltimore, is the same as a win in Kansas City in December. Since every team does not play each other, regulation is even more crucial to maintaining brand equity.
Some people feel as if the circumstantial evidence should not be enough to punish Brady and the Patriots, and that the NFL doesn't have enough "hard proof". The NFL is not the criminal court system, and no where does it state that for punishment players have to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All the NFL and other sport leagues need is probably cause that an infraction took place to act on it. They must do so to protect the brand at all cost. While it may seem a bit unfair to players, that is part of the reason popularity is so high and they make as much money as they do. People bring up allegations that players did in the 60's and 70's and that is part of the reason the league did not make as much money back then, because every potential consumer did not view the league as being "legitimate". That was also the pre-Corporate branding NFL period as well along with no social media. The NFL acts much like any major corporation now, and will do whatever to mitigate collateral damage. In the NFL's opinion, Brady circumvented the rules intentionally which is a already an egregious offense, then refused to cooperate once the allegations were known because how it would affect him. If he's upfront with everything at the time, it's a possibility that he would have been suspended for a game, which would have been the Super Bowl. That is not lost on the league, which feels like Brady attempted to one-up them. The end result is that the Patriots ended up winning the Super Bowl during the year their star player circumvented the rules. The NFL needed swift and harsh punishment on Brady and the Patriots for that reason.