Responding To The NFL's Laughable Deflategate Punishment

Yesterday, the greatest quarterback in the history of the National Football league was suspended four games for “conduct deemed detrimental to the integrity of the game.”  Not only was Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suspended for a quarter of the season, but the team that was all but exonerated in the Wells Report was docked a first round draft pick in 2016, a fourth rounder in 2017, and also fined a record-breaking one million dollars. This inconceivably harsh punishment yet again exemplifies the commissioner’s inability to administrate penalties that fit the given crime, which puts into question the integrity of the league.    

The actions taken by quarterback Tom Brady were deemed “detrimental to the integrity of the game.” If this was the basis for his lengthy punishment, then questions may arise about the integrity of the investigation, starting with the NFL’s pregame actions and the involvement of the referees. The NFL stated that it knew nothing regarding the possible deflation of footballs until after the AFC Championship Game. Following the release of the Wells Report, it was discovered that Colts GM Ryan Grigson had contacted the NFL, particularly Dean Blandino about this issue, and that the league was well aware of it. It’s quite ironic that the NFL can come down so hard on an integrity issue that they lied about to solve…  The referee made aware of the issue was Walt Anderson, who did the league no favors by failing to check the air pressure of the balls after Patriots ball boy Jim McNally gave them to him. If he genuinely felt as though they needed to be checked at half time, there’s absolutely no way Anderson could have deemed them game-ready at kickoff. Another issue that the league has swept under the rug is the uncertainty regarding which gauge Anderson used to measure the balls before and after the game. Anderson admitted that he was unsure as to which gauge he used to set the air pressure to 12.5 PSI before the game started. If he was unsure as to which one he used before the game, there is no definitive way to determine that the air pressure readings taken at halftime were consistent with the readings taken at the beginning of the game.  The Wells Report ignored this piece of evidence, as Ted Wells convinced Anderson that it was “more probable than not that the correct gauge was used.” What kind of message is the league sending by suspending a player for an incident they cannot even be sure they handled properly on the field?  

Now let’s briefly touch upon the punishment handed down to the team for their “failure to cooperate fully with the investigation.” In saying the Patriots failed to cooperate with the league, the NFL yet again displays their incompetence. Page 23 of the Wells Report reads, “the Patriots provided substantial cooperation throughout the investigation, making personnel, documents, and other information available to us upon request.” If they provided substantial cooperation, then how is such a strict punishment warranted anyways? Tom Brady refused to hand over his phone because it was his personal phone, whereas Mr. McNally and Mr. Jastremski turned over their TEAM phones. Although the organization is ultimately responsible for the actions of the player, why would Tom voluntarily surrender his personal phone to the league? Not only that, in what way did the organization itself not cooperate with the investigation? They allowed investigators to question dozens of employees per the Wells Report, including Jim McNally a total of four times. Ultimately investigators were disgruntled by the team’s unwillingness to grant them access to McNally for a fifth time, which seems quite over the top. So because a high profile celebrity did not voluntarily turn over his phone without a subpoena, and an employee with a full time job was not allowed to be interviewed for a fifth time, the league administers an earth scorching punishment? Not that the money means much to the Patriots, but no team in the history of the NFL has been fined one million dollars. Taking away a first round draft pick and a fourth round pick on the other hand is the legal equivalent of implementing capital punishment for petty theft... Given that the Patriots cooperated with the investigation, and that the coach and owner were exonerated following the report, this punishment exceeds all possible expectations to say the least.  

As for Tom Brady, the league may have been justified in giving him a one to two game suspension. Although there was no definitive proof of any wrongdoing, there certainly was damning circumstantial evidence that could not be ignored. I may not agree with the policy, but this is not a court of law, and definitive proof is not needed to suspend a player in this league. Frankly, four games is an absolute joke. Suspending a player for one fourth of the NFL season for his part in a scandal in which it was “more probable than not that he (Tom Brady) was generally aware of the activities” is a humiliation to the league. The suspension has been implemented to uphold the integrity of the game, not necessarily because the act of cheating gave Brady an advantage, and I get that.  But four games? Former players and analysts alike are making it out as if Brady has a history of cheating, while it’s his team that has the history, certainly not him. Brady has earned the respect of teammates, coaches, and opposing players around the league. Former teammate Deion Branch described him as not having a cheating bone in his body, while ESPN analyst, and former teammate, Tedy Bruschi defended him on national television, claiming he would never order someone to cheat. Not only that, but his current teammates have been extremely vocal invoicing their support for him, while the Patriots organization remains firm in their support as well. Suspending one of the most successful and well-respected players in the history of this game for his “probable” involvement in a scandal that has yet to be proven is a disgraceto the National Football League.

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