The NFL has decided to uphold its four-game suspension of Tom Brady over the alleged use of under-inflated footballs during the 2014 AFC Championship game, the league announced in a statement.
The New England Patriots' star quarterback was suspended by NFL executive Troy Vincent in May following a league-sanctioned investigation by Ted Wells. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked a pair of draft picks. The team didn't appeal its penalty, but Brady and his lawyers made their case during a 10-hour appeal hearing on June 23.
The NFL Players Association has previously said it would challenge the decision in court if Brady's suspension wasn't erased. The union said Tuesday afternoon it would have a statement later in the day. The Patriots said they had no comment on the decision. Brady himself has adamantly and repeatedly denied any involvement.
In a statement on Tuesday, the NFL said: "In the opinion informing Brady that his appeal had been denied, Commissioner Goodell emphasized important new information disclosed by Brady and his representatives in connection with the hearing."
The statement said Brady's decision to order his cellphone -- which allegedly contained key evidence about his knowledge or lack thereof of the deflation of footballs -- destroyed before meeting with investigator Ted Wells was key in the decision.
"He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone," the statement read. "The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady."
While the statement does not say it has conclusive evidence that Brady knowingly ordered the footballs deflated, it said the evidence presented by Brady in appeal, as well as the initial Wells report on the incident that has become known as "Deflategate," was enough.
"The commissioner found that Brady's deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs," the statement reads.
"The Commissioner's decision is deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness," Brady's agent and attorney, Don Yee, said in a statement. "Most importantly, neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong. And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred."
Yee went on to say, "The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision." Yee claimed Brady was not given sufficient time to prepare a defense before the appeal hearing.
The Patriots, which chose not to appeal a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks, also released a statement criticizing Goodell's ruling.
"We cannot comprehend the league's position in this matter," the team said. "Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing. We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal. Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."
The initial punishment was imposed five days after a 243-page report prepared by league-appointed investigator Wells said Brady "was at least generally aware" of plans by the team employees to prepare the balls to his liking, below the league-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.
The NFL allows each team to provide the footballs used by its offense -- a procedure Brady played a role in creating -- but it requires them to be inflated in that range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch, and Brady has expressed a preference for the lower end of the range.
Although the report did not conclusively link the four-time Super Bowl champion to the illegal activity, text messages between the equipment staffers indicated that Brady knew it was going on. Investigators said Brady's explanation for the messages was implausible.
Scientific arguments were a major part of Brady's defense. Brady's lawyers tried to shoot down the findings of an independent firm hired to provide scientific analysis of the air pressure inside the footballs used by the Patriots and Colts.
Brady, who turns 38 on Aug. 3, took nearly every snap last season. But he'll miss the first four games this season unless the case goes to court. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick in 2014, would replace Brady, the two-time NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP.
New England hosts Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 to open the regular season. It then goes to Buffalo, hosts Jacksonville, has a bye, and is at Dallas in the last game of Brady's suspension.