Exclusive: Powerful institutions whether the U.S. government, the mainstream media or the NFL can run roughshod over individuals, twisting facts in whatever direction is desired. The current railroading of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a cautionary case in point, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
What I have learned in 35 years as an investigative reporter at the national level is that high-profile investigations are almost always driven less by fact, reason or truth than by power. The Hollywood scenario of some entity-on-high intervening in the name of justice for a happy ending rarely happens in real life.
More typically the relative balance of power between the two sides dictates the outcome with clever lawyers or compliant bureaucrats twisting every word or action in whatever direction serves the interests of the more powerful master. Innocence can be turned into guilt and vice versa, usually with the mainstream news media falling into line and average people soon absorbing the conventional wisdom with smirks at the loser.
I have witnessed this pattern in matters of war or peace, the integrity of elections, and the treatment of individual citizens. Once power is applied to an investigation anyone who stands in the way can expect to get run over. Decent people are demonized and ostracized. Foreign leaders can become the target of “regime change.” Essentially anything goes, and Goliath usually wins.
That is why I am always highly suspicious when this process gets rolling, whether the goal is to pin some nefarious act on a despised foreign leader (Saddam Hussein is hiding WMD); to fix the outcome of an election (Al Gore is a sore loser); or to disparage an honest journalist (Gary Webb deserved what he got for accusing the CIA of dabbling with Nicaraguan Contra drug traffickers).
Often in such cases the conventional wisdom, which reflects the consensus view of the powerful, is dead wrong. Hussein didn’t have those caches of WMD; Gore was the rightful winner of the presidential election in 2000; and Webb was correct when he shed new light on the CIA’s Contra-cocaine connection. Yet all of them lost to the power of systemic distortion.
Similarly, there are troubling aspects to the NFL’s “Deflategate” witch hunt targeting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And there’s a cautionary warning here for all of us. It turns out that even celebrity doesn’t protect you from a process in which a more powerful entity, in this case the NFL and opposing teams envious of Brady’s success, can concoct a case almost literally out of thin air to destroy a person’s reputation and make it harder for the Patriots to prevail on the field in the future.
In this curious investigation, one of the most scandalous aspects has been the role of rival teams in pressuring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to sustain his harsh penalties against Brady (a four-game suspension without pay) and against the Patriots (a $1 million fine and loss of first- and fourth-round draft picks).
Beyond the peculiar process of Goodell serving as judge, jury and appeals court, there has been the intrusion by the NFL’s Management Council in trying to influence the outcome, a factor cited by ESPN and acknowledged in Goodell’s own 20-page report. It would seem that at minimum Brady deserved a disciplinary process without the owners of rival teams weighing in.
Though this interference by team owners who have lost to the Patriots would seem to be an obvious conflict of interest and a threat to the integrity of the game, this behavior has passed virtually unnoticed, mentioned only briefly by some ESPN commentators. Yet, this tilting of the playing field might be the biggest scandal in the entire overblown affair, especially since the Management Council holds the strings to Goodell’s $35 million salary.
The Goodell Report
Like the previous Wells’ investigative report written under Goodell’s direction Goodell’s findings on Brady’s appeal brush aside the core fact that the science behind the assumption that the Patriots’ footballs were intentionally deflated was dubious at best. Even according to the opinion of the NFL-hired experts, all or virtually all the drop in air pressure could be explained by the cold weather alone during the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015.
And the NFL’s experts did not account for other relevant factors, such as the rainy weather and the different pre-game treatments of the Patriots footballs when compared with those of the Indianapolis Colts. A variety of outside scientists reviewed the Wells’ report and concluded that its assessment of the air-pressure readings was unreliable at best because of inadequate protocols in both pre-game measurements and the hasty checks made during halftime. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NFL’s Deflategate Findings ‘Unreliable.’”]
(Ironically, if you relied on the air-pressure gauge that was judged more precise, the Colts played both the first half and second half of the AFC Championship game with underinflated footballs, while the Patriots did for only the first half. Yet, the Patriots were the ones punished.)
There remain other anomalies in Goodell’s report. For instance, Goodell writes that “there are several points that are not in dispute and important to this decision,” including that Brady “told the equipment staff that he wanted the footballs inflated at the lowest permissible level” and “instructed the equipment staff to present a copy of the rule to the game officials.”
Goodell continues: “On the day of the AFC Championship Game, Mr. [Jim] McNally [the team employee who carried the footballs to the referees] told referee Walt Anderson that Mr. Brady wanted the balls inflated to a pressure of 12.5 psi. He [McNally] told the investigators that ‘Tom always has me pass a message to the Official’s [sic] that he likes the balls at the minimum permissible PSI of 12.5.’”
In other words, it’s not in dispute that Brady went to considerable trouble to have the pressure per square inch set at the low end of the legal parameters and that it was McNally’s job to ensure that the referees complied with Brady’s preference to deflate the footballs to that level. This undisputed evidence in Goodell’s own report would suggest that Brady was acting within the rules. And why would someone go to all that trouble if the plan was to have the balls deflated surreptitiously afterwards?
Goodell also states as an unchallenged fact that the AFC Championship game was the only time when McNally took the footballs on his own to the field, writing: “Other referees said he [McNally] had not engaged in similar conduct in the games that they had worked at Gillette Stadium.” So, what kind of a scheme was this to secretly deflate footballs when it allegedly could only have been done once?
McNally also explained to investigators that the reason for the confusion about when he should carry the balls to the field resulted from the fact that the earlier NFC Championship game had gone into overtime delaying the start of the AFC game.
The NFC game ended abruptly causing confusion in the crowded referees’ suite of rooms about the need to get the balls down to the field, McNally explained. He said he used the bathroom on the way because there was a crowd in the referees’ room. He also couldn’t leave the field for the entire first half.
Though McNally had submitted to several interviews with NFL investigators and consistently denied any wrongdoing Goodell makes a big point in his report over the fact that the NFL’s Players Association didn’t bring McNally and locker room assistant John Jastremski down to New York City for Brady’s appeal hearing. Goodell noted that “The Management Council [consisting of rival owners] has argued that an adverse inference should be drawn from the NFLPA’s decision not to seek testimony from Mr. Jastremski and Mr. McNally.”
To this day, there remains no explicit evidence that the balls were deflated after they left the referees’ room. Indeed, the often-cited text messages between McNally and Jastremski referred not to the AFC Championship game but to a problem from a game against the New York Jets in October when the referees illegally over-inflated the footballs, prompting a complaint from Brady that Jastremski conveyed to McNally, whose job it was to make sure the referees deflated the balls to the level that Brady preferred.
All the banter in the texts between the two locker room guys, including McNally’s disparaging remarks about Brady, can be understood in the context of McNally reacting defensively to criticism that he had not gotten the referees to deflate the balls in the Jets game to the low end of the permissible levels or even below the high end of the permissible levels at 13.5 psi. Jastremski tested the balls after the game and found them over the legal limit with one at nearly 16 psi.
Goodell’s report makes no reference to the NFL’s sloppy protocols for ensuring that footballs are inflated properly, nor to the chaotic testing of the footballs during the halftime of the AFC Championship game when there was even disagreement over the sequencing of the measurements, a key issue given how fast balls naturally re-inflate when brought into a warm setting.
Much like the original Wells’ report, Goodell’s report slanted every conceivable fact in the direction of the prosecutors’ case against Brady.
The Destroyed Phone
The center of Goodell’s rejection of Brady’s appeal was the relatively new information that Brady had an assistant destroy an old cell phone that Brady replaced shortly before his interview with the Wells’ investigators. Though Brady’s side had already informed the NFL that he would not give them access to his phone and the NFL already had Brady’s text messages to Jastremski whose phone had been turned over, Goodell deployed this new fact as proof that Brady was intentionally hiding incriminating information.
Brady responded to Goodell’s ruling on Wednesday saying “I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either. The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused. He dismissed my hours of testimony and it is disappointing that he found it unreliable.
“I also disagree with yesterday’s narrative surrounding my cellphone. I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. [Ted] Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline.
“Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong.
“To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone.
“In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time. Regardless, the NFL knows that Mr. Wells already had ALL relevant communications with Patriots personnel that either Mr. Wells saw or that I was questioned about in my appeal hearing. There is no ‘smoking gun’ and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact they have zero evidence of wrongdoing.
“I respect the Commissioners authority, but he also has to respect the CBA [the collective bargaining agreement with the players] and my rights as a private citizen. I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight.”
I have no way of knowing whether Brady is telling the truth or not. But my experience with powerful institutions is that they can massage information any way they want to make the innocent look guilty and the guilty innocent.
[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Tom Brady and Theoretical Crime.”]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.