It’s time for the NFL to give up this fight.

The national nightmare called Deflategate took a dramatic turn Thursday when U.S. District Judge Richard Berman vacated the four-game suspension the NFL handed to Tom Brady. The league had punished the New England star for his lack of cooperation during its investigation into whether the Patriots deflated their footballs below league standards in last January’s AFC championship game.

The NFL has announced it will appeal the decision, but I beseech them to let it go.

We’ve been subjected to this frivolous, poorly conceived “investigation” for over eight months now. Any further discussion can’t be good for the league, for Commissioner Roger Goodell, or for Brady and the Patriots.

Let it go. Please.

Berman’s 40-page decision clearly demonstrated what many of us have thought from the beginning: that the NFL overstepped its authority in handing out the four-game suspension when there was no clear evidence linking Brady to the deflation of footballs in the AFC title game victory over the Indianapolis Colts. League rules clearly state altering the equipment used in a game is punishable by a fine, not a suspension – and clearly not a suspension that would be used for violating the league’s steroids policy, which Goodell cited in his decision to uphold the suspension.

Furthermore, Berman, who was critical of the NFL’s case against Brady throughout the court hearings, said the league denied Brady the right to cross-examine one of the key figures in the league investigation – Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president and general counsel – and denied Brady’s legal team “equal access to investigative files.”

All in all, the NFL looks really bad in its overzealous effort to take on its premier franchise and one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.

Why did the NFL do this? Was it an attempt to appease those in the NFL who thought the punishment for the 2007 Spygate cheating scandal – the loss of a first-round draft pick in 2008, a $250,000 team fine and a $500,000 fine to Bill Belichick – wasn’t enough? Was it an attempt to show that no one is above the rules of the game?

Only Goodell can tell us. But it was obvious from the start that the investigation was flawed and that the punishment didn’t fit the violation. There was no precedent for a four-game suspension, not for equipment violations or refusal to cooperate with a league investigation. Previous instances of such infractions resulted in fines.

While Goodell tried to equate Brady’s failure to cooperate with the investigation to steroid use, Berman rejected that analogy, stating “it cannot reasonably be used as a comparator.”

He also noted that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated a player’s suspension when he was appointed the arbitrator in the New Orleans Saints BountyGate investigation because, Tagliabue said, “There is no evidence of past suspensions based purely on obstructing a league investigation.”

Brady’s discipline was determined as a result of the Wells Report, a supposedly independent investigation that found he was “generally aware” of the ball deflation by two members of the Patriots staff.

Berman noted in his decision that, “as a matter of law, no NFL policy or precedent notifies players that they may be disciplined (much less suspended) for general awareness of misconduct by others. And, it does not appear that the NFL has ever, prior to this case, sought to punish players for such an alleged violation.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: this situation was mishandled by all sides at every turn. No one is going to come out of this looking good, not Goodell, not Brady.

Despite the ruling, there is a nation of fans outside of New England who will think Brady and the Patriots cheated en route to winning the Super Bowl.

His legacy – the four NFL championships, the MVP awards, the record of sustained success – will forever include Deflategate.

But Brady and the NFL players’ union won a big one. Berman reaffirmed their rights to a fair process, not one where Goodell arbitrarily determines the penalty.

It’s time for the NFL to take a look inward, to see where it went wrong and how it can work more closely with the NFLPA to ensure a fair process and penalty.

So please, let’s stop talking about deflated footballs.

Let’s look ahead to Sept. 10, when Brady runs onto the Gillette Stadium field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL season opener.

Let’s start talking about the games.

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