Brady’s scarlet letter

People strongly disagree about the NFL’s overwhelming penalties against the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady for, more probably than not, deflating footballs before last year’s AFC Championship Game. Four-game suspension. A million-dollar fine. Two high draft choices. Some, including me, think it’s an outrageous overreach, out of whack with the NFL’s interest in football maintenance or the severity of the crime. Others, including the NFL itself, believe that this is an integrity-of-the-game issue and that no penalty, save public flogging, could be severe enough.

But let’s consider something else for a moment.

The NFL has just stepped in and ended the greatest quarterback argument. That was probably the most fun sports argument of our time, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, with Joe Montana, among others, having guest roles. By coming down so hard on Brady, specifically, they have branded him a full-blooded cheater. To the masses — those being non-Patriots fans — Brady now wears a Scarlet C across his chest. To the masses, Brady’s claim for greatest ever ends here.

This is the world where Roger Clemens lives, where Barry Bonds lives, where Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez live. Wrecking legacies has mostly been a baseball thing, but now football is in on the act.

Tom Brady has been the league’s shining star, the golden boy, a billion-dollar draw. And now, the NFL has stigmatized him forever over a little bit of air in footballs and a refusal to just hand over his texts to a league clearly out to get him.

Maybe you believe Brady deserves that fate, and more, but the callous way the league just stomps on Brady’s name and reputation over deflated footballs should be a bit unnerving. The NFL will cash in on you for as long as they can. And then, like Bruce Springsteen sings, boy you’re on your own.

— Joe Posnanski