THE SCARLET LETTER has now been officially attached to the golden boy.

The NFL branded New England quarterback Tom Brady a cheater yesterday when commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the four-game suspension Brady got for the role he played in using football inflated below league-mandated standards for the 2015 AFC Championship Game.

Brady, who led the Patriots past the Indianapolis Colts and ultimately the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, had appealed the suspension that had come down because of the saga labeled "Deflategate."

Now the ball is back in Brady's hands. Now we will see how much stock he'll put in his stance that he is completely innocent and had no knowledge of wrongdoing.

Through a series of cronies and surrogates, Brady had let it be known that he planned to take this thing to court and sue the NFL if his suspension was upheld.

Earlier in the week, the NFL Players Association entered talks with the league to diminish Brady's punishment.

Instead of compromising, Goodell just flushed Brady out of the pocket like a bull-rushing defensive end. He effectively told the future Hall of Fame quarterback to put his actions where his lawyer's words were.

Goodell jumped a route on Brady by revealing a new bombshell that the quarterback had destroyed the cellphone he had used for four months before the investigation.

The league said Brady had done so even though he knew that investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on the phone.

That in itself in was hardly a smoking gun. But together with the evidence gathered in the Ted Wells report, it was enough for Goodell to say Brady, having the phone destroyed, "went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported the finding that he sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the scheme."

Brady could have accepted his punishment and thus publicly acknowledge he cheated. Instead, he chose to sue.

The Players Association announced yesterday it will file a suit on Brady's behalf. NFL Network Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported the suit will be filed today in a federal court in Minnesota.

The court of public opinion is divided. Plenty of people, especially those in New England, will stay convinced Brady has been railroaded because of jealousy until video of him taking air out of those particular footballs is produced.

Another group of fans couldn't care less about the lack of integrity shown by a willingness to cheat, and say deflating the ball was no big deal and played no role in the Patriots blowing out the Colts.

A lawsuit is only an attempt to change the minds of those like me who believe he cheated. And, in the big picture, does that matter to Brady?

Only the extreme conspiracy theorists believe Brady cheated his way to four Super Bowl titles. Only extreme haters think Deflategate tarnishes his legacy.

However, when Brady goes into a court of law over this, he is going to have to answer questions about what he did after swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The ambiguous answers Brady gave to Wells during the investigation, and to Goodell in his appeal hearing, will not cut it in front of a judge.

Brady better tell he truth. But, if he doesn't and he gets caught telling a lie in court, the penalties for perjury are more serious than a four-game suspension.

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com