It wasn’t supposed to be an angry week here for me at #JPLMagazine, this wasn’t supposed to be the topic of my column. I was going to write about Snoop Dogg and his new album, ‘BUSH’, complete with a happy tone, ‘Top 5’ lists, and good ole fashioned Hip Hop analysis. But then Monday had to go and happen. Informed by the Wells Report published last week, Roger Goodell handed down the most asinine punishment in NFL history, earning the appreciation of Patriots haters everywhere (and there are many) and the burning ire of us here at home. It has set the sports world and internet on fire, with supporters and detractors alike eager to lend their opinion. Among the issues for which the NFL will eventually have to answer is an investigative report containing a dramatic scarcity of evidence coupled with a punishment that is intended more as a statement than judicial consequence. It is an attempt by Goodell and the NFL to cover their asses, to make sense of an arbitrary punitive system that has already mangled its share of situations in the last twelve months. It is an attempt to pander to the Pats anti-fans, who have long decried the team’s winning ways while being forced to observe their perennial success from places like New Jersey. Above all, it is symptomatic of the haphazard way Goodell runs the league, a long fall from the consistency that his “iron fist” seemed to provide in the beginning of his tenure. I acknowledge my Patriots fandom openly and proudly, even to the point of admitting a certain level of bias (#TommyTerrific #InBillWeTrust). I love football even more though, and to watch Roger and his thugs crumble pieces of it on a yearly basis has been annoying enough, but you want to go after Tommy and my Pats without any actual evidence? Fuck that, Goodell must be stopped.
It’s been a lively few days on the internet, full of memes, tiny bits of information mostly about text messages after the October Jets game, and verbal sparring between Brady’s agent Don Yee and Ted Wells. The four-letter network has the story on a nearly 24-hour loop like CNN with lost plane coverage and every NYC newspaper has their own take on a pun about being kicked in the balls. In the wake of the cacophony, though, quite a few writers have taken the occasion to respond with analytic, reasoned reporting, digging into the 243-page pile of dogshit to expose the faulty investigating and assumed guilt behind “more probably than not… had some general knowledge of…”. That’s the thing about a lack of evidence- its absence doesn’t mean you can just fill in the blanks in the court of public opinion but that is exactly the process going on in our sports media across the country. If everyone says that he did it enough in that tone that says, “come on, just admit it, you know he did”, an obnoxious tone that every Pats fan has no doubt encountered in the previous week/month/decade, then it actually becomes true, right? That’s the narrative on social and news media, an outside joke if such a thing were to exist, that it’s just the Pats getting caught for being the cheaters they are and we New England fans should stop complaining about it. You best believe that if this were happening to Aaron Rodgers the people of Green Bay would be storming Goodell’s castle. Which could have happened, by the way, give the star QB’s proclivity to play with illegally over-inflated balls.
Many, including the commissioner and the Wells Report, have gone on about the crime being Brady’s assault on the integrity of the game. What truly threatens the integrity of the sport we all love so much is Goodell’s inconsistency and his desire to make up the rules as he goes along. You want to clear away cheating allegations about practices that seemed widespread at the time? Fine. You want to not appear soft on the league’s best player on the league’s best team? Ok, go for it, make a punitive statement if it helps you. We Pats fans might even keep calm over a slap on the wrist type punishment. But to answer in such a heavy-handed manner is done with the intention of delivering an entirely different message. It smacks of vindictiveness, of pandering to all the non-fans out there, of linking the event to Spygate to appeal to those haters though the two events are unrelated, involve different infracting parties, and are separated by a decade. To answer accusations that are void of actual evidence with a punishment that indicates egregious malfeasance is just tyrannical and ugly. Sure, the NFL is not a court of law. It contains a lower burden of proof, and the one applied in the Wells Report is the “preponderance of evidence” “more probable than not” standard generally used in civil matters. The scant connecting of the dots is its own issue, with the report aiming to prove that texts messages between Jim McNally and John Jastremski talking about Brady after the Jets game in the Fall prove his “more probable than not” involvement in events at the AFCCG, events that themselves have not even been proven. But even under that lower standard you mean to tell me that a gaggle of spineless texts and a series of vague circumstances that might indicate knowledge of wrongdoing adds up to missing 25% of the next season and the loss of a 1st Round pick (plus the money and 4th-rounder that none of us care about)? Get. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Here. Even the most ardent Pats hater can’t bring himself to call the punishment judicious. They will simply smile with the satisfaction that the team and player they spend so much time looking up at has been “caught”. While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the root of Pats haterism. They see Brady as entitled, a pretty boy who whines to referees (which he does), gets calls that other players might not get (which he does), and who often gets helped up off the turf by the officials (which makes me wince every time; that’s not your job, fanboy). They don’t like his male Uggs, his supermodel wife, or the frequent focus on his hair. But despite all this, the Pats haterism is not based on an actual history of cheating and that inference is the most maddening. Spygate was mostly bullshit but the team took their punishment and moved on; the rest of the league never has. For many the two events are intrinsically linked and that includes the commissioner himself given that the “repeat offender” argument is being seen as a heavy factor. How else does one explain the startling loss of draft picks and $1M fine (twice what the Saints were fined for Bountygate, btw) especially given that Patriots staff (other than the specific two), coaches, and ownership were all cleared of wrongdoing by the “report”? The harsh reality for the Patriot hater is that DeflateGate does nothing to remove Brady from his position as Greatest QB of All Time, just as Spygate could do nothing to make Belichick not the Greatest of All Time at his position. Just admit it.
This story is far from over with both the team and Brady believed to be filing appeals. On Tuesday Ted Wells held a conference call with reporters because he felt his reputation had come under fire in Don Yee’s inferences about collusion with the NFL. Fan outrage is high and a campaign has begun of #NoBradyNoBanner. There are still many problems with the Wells Report that will come to clearer light over the course of the week and time will tell if Brady and the Patriots will be vindicated from this shysty investigation through their appeals (my money’s on some real reductions). But the tarnishing, lose-lose effect that his inconsistent yet unilateral approach to this and other events of the past year have had on Goodell as a leader is irreversible. It’s long past time for Goodell to start treating the NFL like a business and not a summer camp where he’s the only counselor. The Pats responded to Spygate by going undefeated in the regular season, followed by a winning season with Matt Cassel at the helm. There’s not a whole lot of worry here in New England that this controversy will break the Pats’ winning momentum; I’d say this falls under “more fuel for the fire”. It’s Goodell’s misguided message that is the source of consternation and I think it will spell the beginning of his end.
Some articles worth checking out detailing inconsistencies with the Wells Report and other problems: