In the wake of the Wells Report findings on ‘Deflategate’ (can we please stop adding 'gate' to the end of every problem that comes along today?), there has been a constant wave of pushback and refusal to accept the findings and the NFL’s resulting penalties. There are many drivers behind this pushback but one of the most aggravating arguments pertains to a comparison between Ray Rice’s domestic violence issue (and his 2-game suspension) and the one currently staring the New England Patriots in the face. Overall, though, the entire situation reeks of subjective bias and there needs to be some level of legality and common sense applied to this debate.
First off, the only people attempting to draw parallels between two entirely separate incidents (Ray Rice v. Patriots) are Patriots fans and those who want to deflect the obvious evidence that was used when Wells conducted his investigation and came to his final report conclusions. Yes, there are some media members and activists who are trying to keep the focus on viler player (off-field) issues but, as it pertains to this message, it is about the team and its fans. Second, it is also necessary to state that this is not intended to paint Tom Brady as a “cheater.” This is purely about how Tom Brady is a rule-breaker. While I do believe his overall actions – and their hypothetical results – could be considered cheating, that is not the purpose of this letter. I will save that argument for another letter at a different time. No matter what way you look at it though, it is undeniable that Tom Brady is a rule-breaker and that is what this is about.
Anyone who has experienced civil court matters understands that precedent concerning exact cases does not pertain to civil court. While attorneys (agents, accused people/organizations) can utilize preceding, similar cases to argue a point in their favor, those adjudicating the matter (and making the ultimate decision) are not bound by laws to follow the precedent. This is regarding similar matters, and it must be pointed out that the Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident and the Patriots’ ball deflation are not, in any way, similar. Anyone’s attempt to use these to compare and contrast is baseless, and serves as nothing more than a means to deflect attention from the matters immediately at hand concerning the Wells Report on the Patriots and Tom Brady.
Now, while I do not at all believe the current situation needs further comparison to the Ray Rice incident, it is necessary to use that as a way to illustrate why the NFL is fully within its right to exercise its judgment concerning the ball deflation in the way it has. Keep in mind, my opinion is that Ray Rice is a scumbag that does not deserve to play in the NFL anymore. However, I cannot use my opinion; we can only use what rules the NFL had at its disposal at the time of the infraction. The most important issue is: what are the current rules within the workplace at the time of the infraction (not public opinion; not heartstrings being pulled; I’m talking RULES). The NFL has a rule regarding game-ball air pressure. It is no different than NASCAR having rules regarding car height, weight and splitter/spoiler height (among surely hundreds of other car components that are governed by the sport’s rulebooks). How about MLB? Pitchers are not allowed to have pine tar for altering the baseballs and batters are not allowed to use corked bats in the game (notice I said “in the game” and not at practice, before the game begins). How about other rules that the NFL has: uniform alteration? What happens when a player goes rogue and wears unapproved shoes? A fine. What about if a player does not pull up his knee-high socks after they’ve fallen down? A fine. How about a front-office official (GM) texting the sidelines in the middle of a game (as the Browns’ Ray Farmer did last year)? How about a hefty fine and a 4-game suspension for that GM? Yep, that’s the rules being enforced.
These are but a few examples of rules that the players/teams must conform to. Should they fail to conform, there are penalties (or consequences as I tell my children) for their failure to conform. Ray Rice, at the time of his infraction (as egregious as it was) was handled in the manner that the NFL’s policy (at the time of the infraction occurred) permitted. Was it right in the big scheme of life? No, we all know that, and even the NFL - primarily the commissioner - admitted as much when they altered (stiffened) the League’s policy on domestic violence in August of 2014. Today? First infraction gets a 6-game suspension; Second infraction gets a lifetime ban (appealable after one year). Again, no one is arguing that the judgment on Rice was incorrect but at the time it was within the bounds that the NFL had in their RULES.
Again, the NFL has had rules in place regarding the football air pressure. Like it or not, they are rules. And, as has been proven through Wells’ investigation, the Patriots knowingly violated these rules. Naysayers can sit there, indignant as long as they want but they cannot deny the evidence that the investigation uncovered that showed Tom Brady was compensating the equipment personnel for their roles in the process. Also, while many argue that ball pressure is insignificant to the results on the field or that all teams do it (yes, it’s been said many times that Aaron Rodgers likes his over-inflated and other QBs have come out in defense of the practice saying they altered the air pressure to fit their needs), the Patriots got caught doing it; the others have never been caught. And, since this was a clear violation of said rules, there is a penalty/consequence for breaking the rules.
Primary in all of this, to me (and obviously to Ted Wells as shown in his media conference call on May 12th), is how the Patriots organization failed to cooperate with the investigation and how Tom Brady himself refused to cooperate. Opponents can continue to say that if it was you who was asked to turn over your cell phone, you would not. Sure, Tom may have some amazing nudes of his supermodel wife on there. But, as it has been stated many times now, Wells did not even want to have the phone in his hands! He even went as far as to tell Brady’s agent that he could merely provide the cell phone records (only those pertaining to the investigation) and Wells would have taken Brady’s (and his agent’s) word for it. What did Brady and his agent do? They refused. They didn’t say, ok, let us get you what we have. Nope, they flat-out refused to cooperate and provide those records. So, stop with the “cell phone is private” business because Wells didn’t want the phone. Wells wanted the data off of it only as it pertained to the investigation. This is officially classified (again, in the NFL’s rules) as “obstruction.”
If you recall, in the fallout of the Saints’ Bounty investigation, it was determined that player Anthony Hargrove was found to have obstructed the investigation by falsely answering questions posed by the investigators. While I will not focus on the level of impact on the field and to players on the field (yes, bounties intended to injure opposing players are more dangerous than footballs with illegal pressure), Hargrove was given a seven-game suspension for his obstruction - seven games, not four, as some claim. Additionally, the Saints organization was levied penalties for their roles in violating League rules (as it pertained to player safety and obstruction) to the tune of $500,000 and two 2nd-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013; HC Sean Payton was suspended an entire season; The Saints GM: eight games and $500,000 fine; Assistant HC: six games and $100,000 fine. DC Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely.
One could ask: why such huge penalties? Well, again, we know why; the Bounty program was a clear violation of League rules and, and in addition to this, all of those penalized were found to have attempted to obstruct the League’s investigation which added yet another infraction to League rules. Again, if you violate the rules, you have consequences.
While I don’t think I need to continue connecting the logic dots this, subjective persistence in denying facts and rules requires me to do so. Tom Brady clearly violated League rules as it pertains to his role in the footballs’ deflated air pressure. Additionally, he clearly violated League rules as it pertains to cooperating with League investigations. For these infractions, there are penalties he must face.
Take a quick walk with me down Hypothetical Lane, to an alternate timeline where events took a different path in January 2015. This is a place where Tom Brady took the high road in all of this. Rather than vehemently denying the footballs were deflated, he admitted that he liked his footballs to be lower-than-league-minimum pressure, and he compensated team personnel to complete this task for him. While the path to the Super Bowl would have surely been a bumpy one - one filled with days of interviews and hours of uncomfortable questions by League officials and the media - it would have quickly ended shortly after they won the Super Bowl. He would have been given a fine (I cannot say how large), the equipment personnel would have been fined/terminated and the team would have been give some sort of fine as well (regardless of the team’s collective role in the infraction, employees act on behalf of the organization and there would have been some small fine). Bottom-line, this would have been over long ago.
Flashing back to reality, here’s how the past 110 days have gone: Tom Brady stood on a podium and flat-out lied about his role in the infraction. The team - from the coach to the owner - arrogantly spat in the face of the League (and its millions of fans) and said there was zero basis for the rumors and that the organization was due an apology. Throughout the investigation, several role players continued to deny and obstruct the investigation which, according to an estimate by Ted Wells, cost the League somewhere in the MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to conduct. And, in the end, what could have been taken care of in less than a month of PR and apologies and menial penalties, has resulted in this mess, and a League of 31 teams (and their fans) staring at one sole team (and their indignant fans) who continue to believe it is above the rules set forth by the League they are privileged to be a part of.
I have been very objective in putting this together, using facts and information as it has been presented as a result of the investigation. I am not sitting here hypothesizing about how much of an advantage the air pressure gave the Patriots (not just Brady but also the running backs and wide receivers); I am sticking to the facts. That is what the NFL has at its disposal and when looking at the evidence it is presented with, and keeping in clear focus that this is not the first time the Patriots have been caught violating League rules and pushing the boundaries of competitiveness. And it is with this evidence and history that the League is well within its rights to adjudicate whatever punishment it deems fit. And it is due time the team and its fans take a step back and start focusing on why the team didn’t take that alternate path of honesty and how things could all be a lot easier if they simply didn’t break the rules. And, if Patriot fans and players want to be thankful for anything, just be happy that precedent doesn’t pertain to the NFL. Otherwise, Brady may be looking at seven games rather than just four.