Synopsis: Last month, attorney Ted Wells issued a 243-page investigative report (a.k.a. the “Wells Report”) regarding Deflategate. After three months and millions of dollars, he concluded, “It is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of [Locker Room Attendant Jim] McNally and [Assistant Equipment Manager John] Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.” Depending on your feelings towards the Patriots, you will interpret that sentence either as an indictment of Brady’s involvement or as insufficient evidence for a guilty verdict. Regardless, the NFL suspended Brady for four games based on the report’s conclusion and a lack of cooperation in the investigation. Furthermore, the league confiscated two draft picks and fined the team $1 million based on a lack of cooperation and a history of cheating (i.e. Spygate). Lest you believe the punished would accept the verdict without question, the Patriots have created a website to refute the report while Brady has filed an appeal of his suspension through the NFL Players Association. By the time the scandal is resolved, we’ll all be wishing we were talking about Favre’s re-retirements instead.
DEFLATEGATE: THE WELLS REPORT
Almost two weeks ago, we were treated to the long and long-awaited INVESTIGATIVE REPORT CONCERNING FOOTBALLS USED DURING THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME ON JANUARY 18, 2015 (i.e. the “Wells Report”). Based on the title alone, Wells must have been paid by the word because he simply could have titled it ALL THE QUARTERBACK’S MEN. I’m not paid by the word so I’ll briefly summarize the situation.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady cheated, got caught, and lied about it.
Based on the findings of the Wells Report, the NFL suspended the star quarterback for four games. Even though the organization and/or Patriots Coach Bill Belichick presumably didn’t know about Brady’s activities, the team lost two draft picks (a 1st rounder in 2016 and a 4th rounder in 2017) and was fined $1 million due to a lack of cooperation and a history of cheating.
Despite initially claiming to accept the findings as well as any punishment, the Patriots have created a website (www.wellsreportcontext.com) in an effort to refute the report and change public opinion . Unfortunately, any legitimacy to their refutation was overshadowed by their claim that McNally called himself “The Deflator” because he was trying to lose weight.
Furthermore, Brady has appealed the decision through the NFL Players Association. As if involved in a chess match, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took advantage of the collective bargaining agreement and called “check” by declaring that he will preside over the appeal. Like others before him (e.g. Bonds, Clemens, Armstrong), Brady has chosen to fight this battle with a unconvincing argument of “deny, deny, deny” instead of just accepting his fate. Then again, Brady may escape with the following excuse:
Like so many scandals, Deflategate has longevity because of the cover-up more so than the crime. I understand that Brady couldn’t admit to anything before the Super Bowl because he risked being suspended for the game, but he should have just stayed quiet. Instead, he held a press conference during which he emphatically denied any knowledge of the deflated footballs. Based on Brady’s 2nd half performance with properly inflated balls, no one can argue that the Pats’ victory resulted from the wrongdoing; however, the fact remains that he cheated.
Shortly after Brady’s press conference, I wrote a post challenging each one of his implausible denials. At the time, I compared his performance at the podium to that of other cheater/liars like Bill Clinton, Rafael Palmeiro, and Lance Armstrong. Specifically, I provided the following prophetic analysis without any access to witnesses, electronic devices, or scientific experts.
From the original post:
Question: When and how did you supposedly alter the balls?
Brady: I didn’t have any – I didn’t alter the ball in any way.
I do believe Brady when he said that he didn’t alter the ball in any way because I’m sure he had someone else do it. However, I’d like Brady to finish his original thought because he wanted to say something that he couldn’t. Start again Tom, “I didn’t have any _____” what? Were you going to say “I didn’t have any role . . . ” before realizing you couldn’t? How about, “I didn’t have any knowledge . . .?” No, you probably couldn’t say that either. To be honest Tom, you’re a bad liar. Good news though, you’re not a sociopath because otherwise you would have finished that first sentence while wagging your finger at us.
Frankly, I didn’t need any more evidence than the deflated footballs because I applied common sense and knew the track record of the involved parties (i.e. Brady, Belichick and the Patriots). Mind you, I realize that common sense doesn’t hold up in a court of law. Then again, the Wells Report might not either.
Overall, what’s at stake is Brady’s legacy because the Patriots can easily absorb a $1 million fine, two lost draft picks, and four early season games without their star quarterback. Based on his accomplishments on the field (i.e. four Super Bowl victories and six AFC Championships), Brady certainly is in the conversation for being the greatest all-time NFL quarterback. Does being involved in Deflategate change that? It doesn’t for me, but it does create a lasting image of an overzealous competitor who crossed the line in an effort to win at all costs.
Similar to most scandals involving cultural icons, Deflategate has two opposing camps which are entrenched in their beliefs. If you hate the Patriots, you probably believe the Wells Report wasn’t as conclusive as it could have been. On the other hand, if you’re a die-hard Patriots’ fan, you probably reject every conclusion in it. In fact, you probably have expressed at least one of the following excuses trying to defend your quarterback’s actions.
Excuse #1: Using a deflated ball is not really cheating
Since Deflategate was first revealed, there have been numerous attempts to put the Patriots’ actions in context with other forms of cheating. With respect to football, comparisons have included linemen coating themselves in Vaseline (a la Mark Schlereth), and wide receivers using Stickum (a la Jerry Rice). With respect to baseball, reporters have cited analogies like a batter using too much pine tar (a la George Brett) or a pitcher doctoring a baseball (a la Gaylord Perry). Both Rice and Perry came clean after getting into their respective Halls of Fame, but their legacies haven’t suffered because they still are considered all-time greats. Similarly, Brady’s involvement in the controversy shouldn’t have an impact on his legacy unless his appeal reveals prolonged episodes of cheating.
Whereas many reporters have tried to remain as impartial as possible, some have shown their bias by claiming that Brady shouldn’t have been punished so harshly. In particular, they have argued that deflating footballs is similar to speeding and concluded that everyone does it so it’s not a big deal. In their minds, Brady should pay a fine and be able to move on without any lasting stigma. I’m sure quarterbacks have tried (and succeeded) giving balls to referees that were under the minimum air pressure, but I’d be curious if even one thought about using a locker-room attendant to deflate them after the official “weigh-in.”
The late, great Bryan Burwell wrote an article for the New York Daily News in 1988 about the nonchalant attitude toward cheating in the NFL. In particular, he wrote,
Unlike in baseball, where the use of a banned substance can lead to a suspension, the worst that can happen to an NFL player caught with too much Vaseline on his arms or stickum on his hands is a slap on the wrist. According to Section III, article I-K of the NFL Rule Book, any player caught with an illegal substance on his person is removed for one play to remove the substance.
Even prior to the Wells Report, the NFL’s attitude towards cheating has changed over the years. A decade after Burwell’s article, Mark Schlereth and two other teammates from the Denver Broncos were fined $5,000 each for having a foreign substance on their uniforms during a playoff game in Kansas City. Channeling the swagger of Col. Nathan Jessup from A Few Good Men (1992), Scherleth responded to the episode by saying,
Did I grease up my jersey, and use sticky substances on my gloves? You’re damn right. What you call cheating is a fine line. It’s an interesting line. What we did, in the locker room, is called being creative. Certain cheating is snickered at, or applauded.
Interestingly, the Broncos went on to beat Kansas City en route to winning the first of two consecutive Super Bowls. As an aside, Scherleth recently tweeted, “I believe that Brady cheated! I also believe that the Falcons pumping crowd noise in the stadium is far more of an egregious violation.” C’mon Mark, weren’t the Falcons simply being “creative?”
Obviously, Schlereth was a believer in the motto, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t trying.” Although modified, that sentiment seems to have its origin with NASCAR great Richard Petty, who once said, “If you ain’t trying to cheat a little, you ain’t likely to win much.” It would be naive for anyone to think that players don’t skirt the line and cheat to get an advantage; however, they need to face the music when they get caught. In this case, Brady got caught. Unfortunately, he seems to be getting poor advice because Deflategate has turned into the latest example of a scandal in which the cover-up is worse than the crime.
Excuse #2: Deflating the ball didn’t help
The argument most frequently offered to downplay the impact of Brady’s act of cheating relies on the quarterback’s strong 2nd half of the championship game.
Brady’s Stats from 2015 AFC Championship Game
While the argument can be used to say that deflated footballs didn’t play a role in the outcome of that specific game, it shouldn’t be used to say that deflated footballs don’t help in general. Imagine someone trying to argue that the composition of a baseball bat doesn’t matter because a batter popped out twice while using a corked bat but hit two home runs with an uncorked bat. Perhaps the player didn’t need the corked bat, but he’s a cheater nonetheless.
In the first of two press conferences regarding Deflategate, Coach Belichick said,
The balls we practice with are as bad as they can be: wet, sticky, cold, slippery. However bad we can make them, I make them. Any time that players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make them worse and that stops the complaining.
Given that Brady has participated in such practices for fifteen years, it would be insulting to his intelligence to assume he never figured out that it’s much easier to throw, catch and hold on to a deflated ball in cold, rainy weather. Interestingly, Brady testified during the investigation that he was unfamiliar with ball pressure until the the 2014 season yet he stated during a radio interview back in 2011 that he liked deflated footballs. Specifically, Brady admitted that he appreciates it when tight end Rob Gronkowski spikes the football after scoring a touchdown since it “deflates the ball, which, I love that, because I like, you know, the deflated ball.” I’m sure the audio of the quote would have been better because it reads like a teenager speaks. In any event, why would he state that he likes a deflated ball if ball pressure doesn’t matter.
Excuse #3: The Colts’ balls were deflated too.
According to the Wells Report, head referee Walt Anderson tested all of the balls submitted by both teams prior to the championship game. To the best of Anderson’s recollection, all but two of the Patriots’ balls registered around 12.5 psi while all of the Colts’ balls registered around 13.0 psi. The two outliers for the Patriots were underinflated so he brought them up to 12.5 psi to match the others. Anderson had two different gauges at his disposal but presumably used the same one for each team.
After Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass during the first half, he gave the ball to a coach to check the air pressure because it felt soft. Given that the ball registered 11.0 psi, which was well below the regulated minimum of 12.5 psi, the team alerted league officials. When I read in the Patriots’ rebuttal to the Wells Report that the Colts’ actions (i.e. testing the ball independently and alerting someone other than the referee) somehow violated Rule 2 of the NFL Rulebook, I was incredulous. Lest you believed it too, there is nothing in Rule 2 that was violated by the Colts.
During halftime, league officials oversaw a testing of all 11 of the Patriots’ balls still in play but only four of the Colts’ balls. Assuming McNally doesn’t come clean by going to ESPN (or TMZ if he really wants a pay day), Brady actually might have a chance to have his suspension overturned based on procedural issues involving the testing of the footballs. Specifically, there’s an issue with which of referee Walt Anderson’s gauges was used before the game and which one was used by which official during halftime. Based on repeated tests with both gauges during the investigation, Wells made some assumptions about the gauges, but any decent attorney (of which Brady will have plenty) should be able to shred those assumptions. While Wells’ assumptions seem reasonable, they are unnecessary to provide sufficient evidence that something unnatural happened to the Patriots’ balls.
According to the Wells Report:
- All 11 Patriots balls were tested with two separate gauges for a total of 22 readings.
- Only one reading exceeded 12.00 psi (with a high of 12.30 psi).
- 16 readings were at or below 11.50 psi.
- Seven readings were at or below 11.00 psi (with a low of 10.50 psi).
- All 11 balls were inflated to 13.00 psi because not one registered a reading over 12.50 psi.
- Due to time constraints, only four Colts balls were tested for a total of eight gauge readings.
- Five of eight readings exceeded 12.50 psi (i.e. the minimum requirement)
- All eight exceeded 12.0 psi (with a low of 12.15 psi).
- No balls were inflated since each one exceeded 12.50 psi with at least one gauge.
- Whereas 8 of 8 readings for the Colts’ balls exceeded 12 psi, only 1 of 22 readings for the Patriots’ balls exceeded that level.
- The lowest reading for a Colts ball was 12.15 psi, which was at most 7% (and possibly as low as 3%) below its initial reading.
- The lowest reading for a Patriots ball was 10.50 psi, which was at least 13% (and possibly as much as 16%) below its initial reading.
- Statistically, the odds are less than 1% that natural causes (e.g. the Ideal Gas Law) can explain the difference in deflation levels between the Colts and the Patriots’ balls (unless the Patriots argue that their side of the field was colder).
Excuse #4: The NFL engaged in a sting operation
Based on a concern expressed by the Patriots at the outset of his investigation, Wells addressed the claim of a sting operation (which is better known in the Boston area as a witch hunt). Specifically, he found that the NFL didn’t engage in any deception or entrapment that directly or indirectly led to the results. If it were a “sting,” it’s hard to imagine someone letting McNally walk into a private bathroom with the bag of balls before the game.
Of note, this specific excuse is typically offered up by a guilty party who believes he or she was entrapped and not by an innocent person who is wrongfully accused. As shown by a videotape of the infamous “Bitch set me up” drug bust, Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was accurate with his assessment that he was set up by a former girlfriend/mistress. However, he ultimately received a six-month prison sentence because he couldn’t deny that he actually smoked crack. Interestingly, Barry was reelected mayor after getting out of jail. Good news for Brady, loyal supporters are willing to overlook personal transgressions.
Excuse #5: The texts between McNally and Jastremski don’t prove anything
According to the Wells Report, the most incriminating exchange between the McNally and Jastremski included the following texts.
WELLS REPORT: EXCERPT OF TEXT MESSAGES
Of note, the exchange included a text in which McNally refers to himself as “the deflator” and another in which he wrote “im not going to espn . . . yet.” According to the Patriots’ website, the term “deflator” refers to McNally’s name for himself because he was fat and always trying to lose weight (i.e. “deflate” his physique). I can understand if someone put this lame excuse on a whiteboard during a brainstorming session, but I can’t believe someone actually typed and published it. Then again, perhaps they have evidence of McNally using the term “dieting” when describing footballs that needed less air in them. Regardless, the Patriots’ 20,000-word response to The Wells Report should have been edited some more.
As further incrimination, Wells notes the following exchange in his report:
McNally: Tom sucks…im going make that next ball a f#ckin balloon
Jastremski: Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done…
There are two conflicting interpretations for this exchange. According to Wells, “He” refers to “Brady” and “get them done” refers to “get the footballs deflated.” On the other hand, Jastremski contends (and the Patriots agree) that the text refers to a friend who was trying to help McNally sell football tickets to Patriots’ home games. Let’s see, the Patriots have sold out for 226 consecutive games (i.e. 21 years), yet a ticket broker supposedly thought McNally must be stressed trying to sell tickets on the 50-yard line. Apparently, McNally has never heard of StubHub. According to the Patriots, “He” refers to “an unnamed ticker broker” and “get them done” refers to “sell your tickets.” Mind you, Jastremski didn’t text, “get them sold” but rather “get them done.” As Herm Edwards likes to say, “I may have been born at night, just not last night.”
Despite all of this evidence, you probably haven’t changed your mind. Then again, I hope this post is useful to someone years from now who doesn’t have a bias and just wants to know what really happened. Speaking to that future reader, I’ll suggest the following compromise:
- The NFL drops all charges against Brady and the Patriots (i.e. no suspension, no lost draft choices, and no fine).
- However, if any evidence surfaces showing that Brady was directly involved (i.e. more than “generally aware”), the Patriots agree to vacate all of their Super Bowls victories and Brady agrees to be barred from (or kicked out of) the Hall of Fame.
Assuming Brady truly didn’t do anything wrong, he should be willing to take the compromise. Then again, he would be placing a lot of faith in two suspended employees (who will talk at some point). By the way, if you’re one of Brady’s advisors and somehow found this post, realize that your client is involved in a game of chicken: Goodell is in a tank and Brady’s on a bike. Quit while you’re behind.