(Updated: 8:20 p.m.)
It’s important to understand that what happened Monday does not elevate Tom Brady to the level of sports’ most scorned cheaters. His statistical accomplishments were not artificially enhanced to the extent of baseball’s lab creations — Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Braun, Rodriguez — he didn’t ruin lives like Lance Armstrong and he didn’t jump in front of a pack like somebody else in Boston, Rosie Ruiz.
We don’t even know for certain that throwing a slightly under-inflated football is even that big of a deal. But then neither was taping another team’s hand signals, and the New England Patriots did that, too.
There are rules against these things. Brady and the Patriots have proven to be accomplished at not only breaking the rules but acting stunned and apoplectic when it’s suggested they were operating at less-than-kosher levels.
They got smacked in the face Monday — and they deserved it.
“DeflateGate” — an otherwise mild sports scandal that inflated to implausible levels — came down like a sledgehammer. Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season (pending an appeal). The Patriots, who lost a first-round pick in 2008 for taping an opponent’s hand signals, was stripped of another No. 1 pick Monday in the 2016 draft and will lose a fourth-rounder in 2017. The Patriots also will be fined $1 million, relative nickels for Robert Kraft, whose franchise is valued at $2.6 billion.
This is all because an “independent” investigation — the NFL commissioned the Wells’ report, so the degree of independence is up for debate — determined that it was “more probable than not” that Brady orchestrated Patriot team footballs being deflated before the AFC championship game against Indianapolis. Despite an apparent lack of cooperation from Brady and the Patriots, the 243-page document produced by the Wells report included some fascinating details of when and how footballs alleged were deflated. There also was a text exchange between locker room attendants Jim McNally and John Jastremski, when McNally referred to himself as “The Deflator” and texted Jastremski: “Chill buddy I’m just (messing) with you. I’m not going to ESPN…yet.”
McNally reportedly had been getting shoes and autographs for his duties and the exchange certainly suggested this wasn’t a one-time deal.
This was systematic cheating, even if many are dismissing the significance of the act itself.
Here are the most notable aspects of the penalties that come out of “DelfateGate,” in my view:
• Brady, the NFL’s “Golden Boy,” is not above reproach. He can be handcuffed by Sheriff Goodell like everybody else. There would have been an outcry from many players if the NFL chose not to punish one of the faces of the league after coming down on so many players of lesser stature for other issues.
• There’s little question the league came down hard on the Patriots and their star player at least in part because it believed none of the principles would fully cooperate with the investigative process: Brady, team officials and coaches or locker room officials.
• The Patriots’ history of cheating (“Spygate”) almost certainly played a role.
The penalties should not as a surprise. The Falcons lost a fifth-round draft pick for piping in fake crowd noise into a dead stadium — and owner Arthur Blank admitted it and never obstructed the investigation in any way. Did you really believe commissioner Roger Goodell would let Brady and New England off easy?
Some of the language used by NFL vice president Troy Vincent underscored the league’s feelings about the Patriots. He referenced the “Integrity of the Game Policy” and said “prior violation of competitive rules was properly considered in determining the discipline in this case. Another important consideration identified in the Policy is ‘the extent to which the club and relevant individuals cooperated with the investigation.’”
He referenced the failure of McNally to fully cooperate and Brady “to produce any electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information. Although we do not hold the club directly responsible for Mr. Brady’s refusal to cooperate, it remains significant that the quarterback of the team failed to cooperate fully with the investigation.”
Rules exist for a reason. Rules were broken. Did it play a role in New England’s lopsided win over Indianapolis? No — just as throwing legally inflated footballs clearly didn’t inhibit Brady in the Super Bowl. But to focus on that is focusing on the wrong thing.
Don Yee, Brady’s combustible agent, said the Wells’ report will be “exposed” on appeal, whatever that means. “The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis,” he said in a statement. “…The NFL has a well-documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions that often are overturned when truly independent and neutral judges or arbitrators preside.”
Actually, there is some truth to that latter statement. Goodell has looked bad in more than a few cases recently, notably the Ray Rice domestic abuse case.
Playing with a slightly deflated football obviously don’t rise to that level. But the Patriots have a tendency to believe that rules don’t apply to them. The punishment was justified.
•Recent ramblings — MyAJC: Jalen Collins determined to make Falcons’ pick look good — AJC: Wall’s injury shifts odds in Hawks’ favor for game, series — MyAJC: Braves’ McDowell trying to repair some damaged egos — AJC: Brady’s agent suggests ‘sting operation’ by NFL, Colts. Really? — AJC: Pats, Brady clearly cheated and Bob Kraft is in denial — MyAJC: Hawks survive but they didn’t make it easy — AJC: Short takes: Wall’s status uncertain, late defense keys win — MyAJC: Here we go again: Hawks let one slip away — AJC: Short takes: Hawks go cold, blow double-digit lead in Game 1 — MyAJC: Teague is Hawks’ key to going deep in playoffs — AJC: No shortage of stars but Hawks’ clincher started with Teague — MyAJC: Finally, the good Hawks show up for series clincher — AJC: On Falcons’ draft, trading up, Bruce Irvin and Gurley question — MyAJC: Dan Quinn determined to fix pass rush after past Falcons’ whiffs — MyAJC: Hawks’ regular-season afterglow is long gone — MyAJC: Hawks being visited by ghosts of playoffs past