The National Football League (NFL) came out with a 243-page report on May 6 concerning the Deflategate controversy that has swirled around the New England Patriots since the AFC Championship Game earlier this year. In its account, the league surmised that Patriot quarterback Tom Brady was privy to the breach in NFL policy regarding ball deflation as this sample essay will discuss.
Background on Deflategate
At the Jan. 18 AFC event, the Patriots came under suspicion over footballs which apparently had been under-inflated in an effort to inconvenience the opposing team, the Indianapolis Colts. The story sparked a sporting news firestorm that was quickly named “Deflategate” in reference to the “gate” meme that has been slapped on an increasing number of scandals in recent years; all in homage to the 1970s Watergate scandal.
The deflating was controversial because, according to NFL rules, footballs need to be inflated within a 12.5-13.5 PSI pressure range. If a ball is inflated at a level below the required range, a player might have an unfair advantage in terms of gripping, throwing, and catching, especially during games that occur on rainy days. However, a ball could still be pumped to requirements while indoors, yet lose some of its pressure once taken outside in cold weather.
At first, the Patriots were being accused of intentionally deflating the balls in order to get a leg up over their two main rivals, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. The former team quickly withdrew itself from the claim, which was nonetheless pursued by Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who urged the league to investigate the issue.
Suspicions fall upon Brady
As the NFL quickly launched a probe into the matter, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick vigorously denied any wrongdoing on the part of his team, but promised to cooperate with the investigation. Soon enough, much of the controversy zeroed in on Brady, whose preferences regarding ball pressure came under speculation by the media. The quarterback also denied any knowledge of ball inflation, but on May 11, the NFL benched him for four games due to what the league called “substantial and credible evidence” of Brady’s knowledge on the matter (Rosenthal).
In a letter addressed to Brady on behalf of the NFL, the league’s Executive VP of Football Operations, Tony Vincent, said that the quarterback’s actions
“clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football,” (Silverman).
The letter went on to say that it was unlikely that Brady could have been unaware that balls were being under-inflated. The VP pointed to various strands of evidence in support of the allegations, such as Brady’s inconsistent and implausible testimonies and his refusal to work with the investigation. Three days into his suspension without pay, Brady appealed the ruling.
Patriots fined and punished
In addition to benching the Patriots’ star player, the NFL has also imposed a $1 million fine against the team, which will be denied a 2016 first-rounder and 2017 fourth-rounder in the respective drafts for those seasons.
The penalties were hinted at a week beforehand by Ted Wells, an independent Deflategate investigator who concluded that Brady was likely complicit in the whole matter. Meanwhile, the accused team’s owner, Robert Kraft, denied any wrongdoing on behalf of the Patriots, but said his team would accept any discipline handed out by the league.
Once the punishment was delivered, however, Kraft changed his tune. On the day that Brady was benched, the owner said that the penalties “exceeded any reasonable expectation,” and that it “was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence,” (Andrade).
The punishment was authorized on behalf of the NFL by Commissioner Roger Goodell, who stressed that Brady’s refusal to help in the investigation, despite being promised safeguards in exchange for his cooperation, was an issue that led to his benching. Vincent, meanwhile, pointed to some of the Patriots earlier ethics violations, such as the 2007 videotaping of an opposing team’s signals—a scandal known at the time as “Spygate”—when handing out this latest punishment.
Brady, however, was not the only person to be individually targeted by the NFL’s ruling. On May 6, two Patriots’ employees, James McNally and John Jastremski, were handed non-paid suspensions; neither will be allowed to resume their roles without Vincent’s expressed approval.
This won’t be the first time in Brady’s tenure with the Patriots that the team has had to do without its star quarterback. During the first week of the 2008 season, the team went 11-5 after Brady tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
The Patriots’ 2014 second-round pick, Jimmy Garoppolo, is set to lead the team at the start of the upcoming season, which kicks off on Sept. 10 with a game opposite the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady, meanwhile, will be reinstated in Week 6 when the Patriots go against their Deflategate rivals, the Colts.
The sporting scandal of the year
The story first exploded in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. As the controversy grew, it aroused questions among the public as to how something like ball deflation could be a cause for such a scandal. One of the more common theories is that the Patriots have been predisposed to scandal due to shenanigans in their recent past, most notably with the 2007 Spygate controversy.
Furthermore, the NFL in general has courted controversy as of late, with some players making headlines for some unsavory actions in their personal lives. Two of the most notorious cases in this regard have been the domestic assault charges leveled against Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and the child abuse allegations against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
To some degree, the amount of coverage afforded to Deflategate could be blamed on an uneventful news cycle at the time the story first broke, which occurred during the post-championships/pre-Super Bowl lull.
Criticism and controversy behind Deflateagate
Initial reactions to the controversy were mixed. One of the harsher criticisms came from sporting commentator Dan Wetzel, who in a Jan. 22 op-ed for Yahoo! Sports condemned the league for putting off the inquiry until after the Super Bowl. When speculating the likelihood that the deflations could have been unintentional, Wetzel contrasted the remote possibility that “some unnamed, unknown, mystery equipment manager altered the footballs without Brady’s knowledge and approval,” with the seemingly rhetorical question of how could
“11 of the Patriots’ footballs, but not one of the Colts, nor apparently 12 more backup footballs from the Patriots, lose pressure naturally?” (Wetzel).
Other commentators took the criticism even further, with Paul Newberry of the Associated Press insisting that Belichick be excluded from the Super Bowl, cynically remarking that if “the Patriots’ coach wants to wear his hoodie during the biggest game of the season, he can break it out while watching the telecast from his couch,” (Newberry). Taking the sentiment to its extreme, ESPN’s Roxanne Jones opined that the Patriots as a whole should be forced to sit out the game.
In other corners of the media, Deflategate was viewed as fluff news. Conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh found it appalling that the sporting scandal could saturate the newsfeeds considering some of the major newsworthy occurrences that happened at the same time, such as the death of Saudi King Abdullah. The scandal was also viewed dismissively by CNN’s Mike Downey and by Forbes contributor Matthew Kory, who insisted that the Patriots should only be punished for having forced a ridiculous story onto the public in the bluntly titled op-ed “Deflate-gate Is The Dumbest Sports Controversy Ever,” (Kory).
Media reactions to the Deflategate punishment
In light of the recent punishment, newer commentaries have appeared that are divided on the severity, but in general agreement over Brady’s complicity. Believing the quarterback to have been justly benched, ESPN writer Ian O’Connor said that
“Brady’s credibility is in tatters now, and he will only hurt his reputation more by continually trying to fake out people who refuse to be deked,” (O’Connor).
The writer also insisted that Brady was given a light punishment, considering the circumstances, and that he should simply pay his debt and apologize to the public in as humble a manner as possible.
Rosenthal, Gregg. “Patriots’ Tom Brady suspended 4 games.” NFL.com. NFL Enterprises LLC. 11 May 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
Silverman, Robert. “Now, Let Professor NFL Lecture You on Morality and Ethics.” The Daily Beast. The Newsweek Daily Beast Company. 12 May 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
Andrade, Jack. “Patriots’ Kraft: Punishment ‘far exceeded any reasonable expectation’.” Boston.com. Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. 11 May 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
Wetzel, Dan. “Most troubling news out of Tom Brady’s deflate-gate comments: NFL hasn’t talked to QB.” Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo. 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
Newberry, Paul. “Column: Deflategate should keep Belichick out of Super Bowl.” WCBV Boston. Hearst Stations Inc. 24 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
Kory, Matthew. “Deflate-gate Is The Dumbest Sports Controversy Ever.” Forbes. Forbes Inc. 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
O’Connor, Ian. “Tom Brady should skip appeal, tell truth now.” ESPN.com. ESPN Inc. 12 May 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.