May 11, 2015
The NFL made a circus out of deflate-gate, and it made sure in the end it got the reaction it wanted from the general public.
That's the only way to figure the miscues the NFL made with its unprecedented and overdone punishments for the New England Patriots in deflating footballs (an issue, as we'll see, the league never cared about before).
The NFL screwed up this punishment, going for the standing ovation from a mostly Patriots-hating public (all good teams are hated, and the Patriots surely rub people the wrong way) instead of doing what was right.
Here are five reasons the NFL got the punishment so, so wrong:
The NFL did not care much about football tampering, until it fit its agenda
How do I know the NFL didn't care about ball tampering before? Well, there are two cases in which it did practically nothing, seeing them as the misdemeanors they were. Many people have brought these situations up in previous days, including ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. They are perfect examples of the NFL's hypocrisy when it came to the Patriots.
Last season, the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings were caught, on a cold day, using sideline heaters to warm up footballs. That's against the rules. You can argue that it's not the same level as deflating footballs in a bathroom, but it has the same effect: something outside of the rules to make the football easier to grip and catch. The Panthers and Vikings were ... warned. That's it.
Now, even if you don't think it's the same level crime, it is at least similar in nature, and the difference between no punishment at all and what the Patriots got shows the NFL wanted to make an example out of New England. The NFL was pandering to the crowd, whether that was Pats-hating fans of 31 Pats-hating owners.
Also, in 2012 the San Diego Chargers used towels with an adhesive substance on their game ballsand didn't give them up to the NFL immediately when ordered to do so. If you think the Panthers-Vikings thing was just some honest mistake, it's a lot harder to convince anyone that there was no intent by the Chargers to gain an advantage. And the Chargers' punishment? A $20,000 fine. That's it.
The NFL recently started caring about game ball manipulation, about the time of last season's AFC championship game apparently. Heck, the league didn't even immediately act when the Indianapolis Colts told the NFL the day before that game that they were concerned about the Patriots deflating game balls. Doesn't sound like a league that was too concerned about the issue, does it? I don't believe there was necessarily a sting, I just think the league didn't care about the issue. Until it saw which way the public wind was blowing, that is.
The precedents are so out of line with the Patriots' discipline, it's hard to reconcile in a way that makes any sense.
The argument that Spygate mattered doesn't hold up in Brady's suspension
If you want to say the Patriots' part of the suspension ($1 million fine and two lost draft picks) is harsh because of Spygate, the videotaping scandal, I won't waste much time arguing. But when it comes to Brady's suspension, it's wrong to throw the two controversies together.
Brady was on the Patriots when they were videotaping signals. If there was a benefit to be had from it, he benefited. But he was not a part of the Patriots' wrongdoing in that scandal. Brady wasn't punished. He wasn't implicated in any wrongdoing. Spygate was on Bill Belichick. Not Brady. Punishing Brady extra because the team was involved in Spygate is just looking for a convenient excuse. It doesn't hold up in reality.
The Patriots as an organization were not found to be responsible for wrongdoing
If we're going solely on Ted Wells' report in the Patriots' punishment, then let's see what the Patriots as an organization did wrong. This passage comes after the report says that assistant equipment manager John Jastremski and officials locker room attendant Jim McNally probably conspired to deflate game balls and Brady probably knew something was going on:
"We do not believe that the evidence establishes that any other Patriots personnel participated in or had knowledge of the violation of the Playing Rules or the deliberate effort to circumvent the rules described in this Report. In particular, we do not believe there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick or any other Patriots coach in the matters investigated."
So, no wrongdoing equals a $1 million fine and two lost draft picks? Huh. It seems the NFL used the Wells report when it was convenient and ignored it when it wasn't.
The NFL saying the Patriots and Brady didn't cooperate is not accurate
In the second paragraph of the NFL's statement on the punishment, it says "the failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation" was a reason for the harsh penalty. Again, this is the NFL using an easily digestible phrase that people can parrot but doesn't hold up if you have read the report. In fact, the line "the Patriots provided substantial cooperation throughout the investigation" appears in Wells' report. Page 23, if you're interested.
The Patriots did cooperate. They turned over text message records of employees, security tapes, secured interviews with dozens of their employees. "The failure to cooperate" is the NFL's pandering at its worst. The "failure to cooperate" is this: The Patriots say McNally was made available for four interviews but the investigators were turned down when a fifth interview was requested. Brady met with investigators, answered all their questions, but refused to provide text messages and emails. That's it. That's the extent of "failure to cooperate." There are no other examples of any lack of Patriots cooperation in the report. And the way the NFL embarrassed Jastremski with the long story about the ball he had autographed after Brady reached 50,000 yards in his career, something that had no point in the report other than to show up Jastremski, I can't say Brady did the wrong thing.
If you want to see how the NFL was pandering to get a visceral reaction from fans while being less than forthright, the "failure to cooperate" reach is it.
There's no evidence of Brady's wrongdoing
I'm not talking about old quarterbacks saying what Brady should have known or the Wells report's many "probablys" by connecting dots. I'm talking about evidence that Brady had any say in deflating footballs. Evidence. Not conjecture. Facts.
Here's the entire Wells Report. Read it through. Find the evidence (not Wells' opinion, but evidence) that Brady was explicitly involved in Jastremski and McNally probably conspiring to deflate footballs. Hit me up on Twitter @YahooSchwab with that evidence if you want. I asked for it last week. Still haven't had anyone find any.
If you want to roll your eyes and say that Brady kept his hands clean like a football Tony Soprano, fine. If you want to judge him based on connecting a million dots, that's your right. But if the NFL is going to take four games from Brady without pay (about $2 million) and permanently damage the reputation of one of the greatest players in NFL history, I want more than someone saying "Well he had to have known!" I would like to see some evidence. Facts. Not conjecture or an opinion. Evidence. There simply is none.
And there was also no excuse for the NFL screwing up this punishment so badly, either.