BOSTON (CBS) -- Patriots training camp officially kicked off on Wednesday, with all players reporting for duty for the 2015 NFL season.
As has been the case multiple times in recent years, a story beyond just football has dominated the storylines surrounding the team. This time around, of course, it's Roger Goodell's decision to uphold the four-game suspension on Tom Brady that is the No. 1 sports story in the country.
So there was quite a gathering for head coach Bill Belichick's press conference on Wednesday, but instead, owner Robert Kraft stepped to the podium.
"In light of yesterday's league ruling, I felt it was important to make a statement today prior to the start of training camp," Kraft said, noting it would be his final comment until the league process plays out. "The decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me. It is routine for discipline in the NFL to be reduced upon appeal. In the vast majority of these cases, there is tangible and hard evidence of the infraction for which the the discipline is being imposed, and still the initial penalty gets reduced. Six months removed from the AFC Championship Game, the league still has no hard evidence of anybody doing anything to tamper with the PSI levels of footballs. I continue to believe and unequivocally support Tom Brady.
"I, first and foremost, need to apologize to our fans, because I truly believe what I did in May, given the actual evidence of the situation and the league's history on such matters, would make it much easier for the league to exonerate Tom Brady. Unfortunately I was wrong."
Kraft said the league's handling of the entire situation has been "extremely frustrating and disconcerting," and that he still does not understand how an erroneous ESPN report was never corrected by the NFL.
"[The Chris Mortensen report] was never corrected by those who had the correct information. For four months, that report cast aspersions and shaped public opinion," Kraft said, noting that Goodell's announcement Wednesday had a similar, "erroneous" headline. "This headline was designed to capture headlines across the country and obscure evidence regarding the tampering with air pressure of footballs. It intentionally applied nefarious behavior and minimized the acknowledgement that Tom provided the history of every number he texted during the relevant time frame."
On the cell phone matter, Kraft added an important note.
"And we had already provided the league with every cell phone of every non-NFLPA employee that they requested, including head coach Bill Belichick," Kraft said.
Kraft continued: "Tom Brady is a person of great integrity, and is a great ambassador of the game both on and off the field. Yet for reasons that I cannot comprehend, there are those in the league office who are more determined to prove that they were right rather than admit any culpability of their own or take any responsibility for the initiation of a process and ensuing investigation that was flawed."
Kraft said the entire issue has never been about what's "fair and just."
"Back in May, I had to make a difficult decision that I now regret. I tried to do what I thought was right. I chose not to take legal action. I wanted to return the focus to football," Kraft said of his dropping of the fight of the team penalties. "I have been negotiating agreements on a global basis my entire life. I know there are times when you have to give up important points of principle to achieve a greater good. I acted in good faith and was optimistic that by taking the actions I took, the league would have what they wanted. I was willing to accept the harshest penalty in the history of the NFL for an alleged ball violation because I believed it would help exonerate Tom."
Kraft said a common saying of his is that "if you want to get a deal done, sometimes you have to get the lawyers out of the room."
"Now the league has taken the matter to court," Kraft said, "which is a tactic that only a lawyer would recommend."
"Once again, I want to apologize to fans of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. I was wrong to put my faith in the league.
"Given the facts, evidence and laws of science that underscore this entire situation, it is completely incomprehensible to me that the league continues to take steps to disparage one of its all-time great players and a man for whom I have the utmost respect.
"Personally," Kraft said, "this is very sad and disappointing to me."
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