NEW YORK —
The National Football League commissioner on Tuesday upheld New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his role in using underinflated footballs during the conference championship game last season.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Brady, a two-time NFL most valuable player and three-time Super Bowl MVP, told an assistant to destroy Brady's cellphone on or just before March 6. Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells on that day.
"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,'' Goodell said in his decision. "During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device.''
The text messages were critical to Wells' investigation because they could have shown details of Brady's messages with equipment managers blamed for deflating the footballs.
Wells' investigation had no subpoena power and Brady was under no legal obligation to cooperate.
NFL executive Troy Vincent suspended Brady in May, following the Wells report. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked a pair of college draft picks. The team didn't appeal its penalty, but Brady and his lawyers made their case during a 10-hour appeal hearing June 23.
The NFL Players Association previously said it would challenge the decision in court if Brady's suspension wasn't erased.
Brady and the Patriots have denied knowingly using deflated footballs in the American Football Conference championship win over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl and Brady was named the Most Valuable Player.
The NFL announced in late January that Wells would head an investigation into New England's alleged use of underinflated balls against the Colts. More than three months later, the 243-page Wells report was issued, saying it was "more probable than not'' that Brady was "at least generally aware'' that footballs he used were improperly deflated by team personnel.
Brady appealed and the union asked Goodell to recuse himself from hearing the appeal, contending he could not be impartial and might be called as a witness. But Goodell said it was his responsibility to oversee the hearing to protect the integrity of the league.
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, will miss the first four games of this season unless the case goes to court. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round draft pick in 2014, would replace Brady.
New England will play Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Dallas in its first four games.