Exclusive: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may lose his day in court since the NFL maneuvered “Deflategate” into a corporate-friendly venue in Manhattan possibly sparing the NFL from explaining why rival owners were allowed to intervene to push harsh penalties for Brady and the Patriots, says Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Now that the National Football League has arranged for a corporate-friendly court in Manhattan to hear a federal lawsuit brought by suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the court has made clear it doesn’t want a full-scale trial, only a negotiated settlement we may never know what really happened in the overblown “Deflategate” controversy.
But how this controversy has been handled by the NFL, the mainstream media and much of the American public is instructive regarding what’s gone wrong in this country’s approach toward information and evidence. We are now routinely manipulated into Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate” sessions directed at designated “villains,” whether Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or the Patriots’ Tom Brady.
This mob-like process allows for remarkably little dissent or skepticism. We are given one-sided stories from entities whose honesty and integrity we should doubt, whether the U.S. government, the mainstream media or the NFL. But we join, nevertheless, in a collective unleashing of hate toward the target, casting aside facts and fairness for the fun of some ritualistic, communal fury.
We saw where the 1984-like “Two Minutes Hate” session got us regarding Saddam Hussein and his treacherous hiding of WMD. And we are currently living with the increased danger of thermo-nuclear war because our “Two Minutes Hate” session toward Putin has lasted for two years.
Obviously, the Brady case is less consequential but perhaps even more illustrative because Brady was until this controversy a respectable American citizen, the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, considered a poor athlete who couldn’t make it in professional football but who defied his skeptics and worked his way up to the highest levels of his profession, taking his team to six Super Bowls and winning four.
But Brady’s success earned not just plaudits from admirers but animosity from many rival fans and, more significantly, from rival teams’ owners, a pack of highly ambitious men who have invested huge sums in their franchises and who hate to lose.
If we step back for a moment, we would realize that almost everything that we have heard about the “Deflategate” saga has been from the NFL’s side of the story, reflecting the clear interests of the rival owners who have bristled over the Patriots’ and Brady’s dominance of the league for the past 15 years.
Indeed, an alternative way to view this “scandal” is that these rival owners tired of losing to the Patriots and to Brady are trying to rig the upcoming season by barring Brady from four games and then to handicap the team into the future by stripping it of first- and fourth-round draft picks.
You might have thought that these rival owners would have been excluded from Brady’s case, much as Patriots owner Robert Kraft was. But the direct role of these rival owners in pressing for Brady’s four-game suspension was reported (in passing) by ESPN and acknowledged (in a backhand way) by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s 20-page report rejecting Brady’s appeal.
In the report, Goodell referenced input from the NFL’s Management Council in taking positions hostile to Brady. The Management Council consists of team owners who not only are tired of losing to the Patriots but hold the strings to Goodell’s $35 million salary.
Two Prosecutors’ Briefs
So, perhaps not surprisingly, what the NFL has produced are two prosecutors’ briefs, one by outside counsel Ted Wells and one by Goodell. However, rather than treat these accusations as just one side of the story, the mainstream media ,from The New York Times to ESPN has treated these tendentious reports as gospel truth and downplayed or mocked follow-up denials by Brady and the Patriots.
The federal court case offered Brady his one chance to move from playing defense to offense. But the NFL preempted the possibility of Brady’s case being heard in a relatively sympathetic venue and instead rushed to file first in a Manhattan court considered favorable to management.
If not for the waves of hatred directed toward Brady, some Americans might wonder why the NFL is going to such lengths to prevent Brady from getting a relatively fair hearing. What are the questions that Brady’s lawyers might have asked if they had a chance, which they may not now? Here are a few areas of vulnerability in the NFL’s case:
—Problems with the first predicate. According to the official narrative of Deflategate, the Indianapolis Colts came to suspect that the Patriots were deflating footballs after the Colts intercepted two of Brady’s passes during a nationally televised game on Nov. 16, 2014, which the Patriots won 42-20, continuing their lopsided dominance of the Colts. But there are gaps in the Colts’ story.
First, the game was played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, meaning it was a Colts’ home game and as we have learned from the Deflategate record, the home team controls both teams’ footballs after they are inspected by the referees before the game. A home-team employee carries them to the field, meaning that any tampering by the Patriots would have had to occur in front of tens of thousands of people and hundreds of cameras, but no one has presented such evidence.
Secondly, neither of the NFL’s two reports indicates exactly what the Colts learned about those intercepted footballs or whether they were tested. The Colts play in a domed stadium so none of the environmental effects that can naturally reduce the air pressure would have been present. But the existing record doesn’t show what the air pressure supposedly was, if the Colts checked.
Thirdly, Jim McNally, the Patriots’ game-day employee alleged to be the “deflator,” doesn’t travel with the team. So, presumably, somebody else would have had to deflate the balls. Yet, the reports offer no suggestions regarding how that was supposed to work.
That leaves another possibility: that the Colts, having lost badly to the Patriots in November, were looking for some creative gamesmanship that might give them hope for the rematch in the AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Jan. 18, 2015. So, accuse the Patriots of deflating footballs, cause lots of confusion and get into Brady’s head.
—Problems with the second predicate. According to the NFL’s two reports, the Colts pressed their concern during the first half of the championship game after intercepting another Brady pass and checking its air pressure, which was indeed under the 12.5 pounds per square inch lowest standard for NFL games. But scientists later noted that the psi was in the range expected by the natural effect of a ball losing pressure in the cold temperatures that night in Foxborough.
In other words, the second predicate for the investigation was based on ignorance of the Ideal Gas Law. But the Colts’ complaint prompted a chaotic halftime examination of the Patriots’ footballs, which were found to be below the 12.5 psi minimum standard. So, too, were three of the four Colts’ balls that were tested, according to the more accurate gauge used. (On the fourth ball, there was an apparent mistake in recording the numbers, and the NFL officials ran out of time and didn’t finish testing the remainder of the Colts’ footballs.)
Though the halftime examination of the footballs caused some confusion at the start of the second half, the Colts’ gambit if that’s what it was failed to shake Brady and the Patriots who went on to win the game, 45-7.
But the halftime examination began a flurry of reports about the Patriots possibly cheating by using underinflated footballs. The NFL then added to the furor by sending the Patriots a letter announcing an investigation with false information, including overstating how low the levels of psi were in the Patriots’ balls and announcing that none of the Colts’ balls had tested below the minimum.
Those false NFL claims eventually were retracted in the Wells report months later, but the inaccuracies were allowed to seep into the news media and helped create a hostile climate toward Brady and the Patriots during the two-week run-up to the Super Bowl, which the Patriots also won.
—McNally’s behavior. A key point in both Wells’ report and Goodell’s report was the supposedly suspicious actions of McNally, the Patriots’ game-day employee who was responsible for conveying the footballs for both teams from the referees to the field and who had the task of informing the referees that Brady preferred his footballs deflated to the low end of the permissible levels, 12.5 psi.
Wells and Goodell noted that in other games, McNally and the footballs were under the supervision of an NFL referee after they were checked, but that in the AFC Championship game, he carried the footballs down to the field without a specific order to do so. He also stopped briefly in a single-toilet bathroom en route to the field for what McNally said was a quick chance to urinate but Wells and Goodell suspect was a chance to deflate the Patriots’ footballs.
But there are two problems with the NFL’s depiction of these events. First, neither the Wells report nor the Goodell report notes the highly unusual circumstances preceding the AFC Championship game. Normally, football games are set to start at a certain time and do so, even in the playoffs when there is a half-hour or so break between the end of one game and the start of the next.
However, on Jan. 18, the NFC Championship game went into overtime, forcing a delay in the start of the AFC game. Then, when the NFC game ended abruptly with a Seattle Seahawks touchdown, there was confusion and haste in the referees lounge about getting everyone and everything down to the field. McNally said he took that command as his order to lug the two bags of footballs to the field.
In other words, whether or not McNally should have waited for a referee to accompany him or not, the situation was highly unusual. There have been very few times in NFL history when the start of a championship game was delayed because another championship game had gone into overtime. That context is important but is left out of both NFL reports, all the better to make McNally’s behavior look especially suspicious.
A second problem for the NFL is its assertion that McNally was normally supervised by an NFL official after the balls were check by the head referee. If that’s true, then it wouldn’t seem possible that he routinely deflated footballs en route to the field.
Bolstering that point was the fact that Brady complained to equipment assistant John Jastremski after an October 2014 game against the New York Jets when the referees illegally over-inflated the footballs and McNally failed in his assignment to get the refs to deflate them to the 12.5 psi level that Brady preferred.
When Jastremski raised Brady’s complaint with McNally, you might have expected his text messages to explain why he had not deflated the balls himself surreptitiously, if he were part of such a scheme. But he didn’t make any such reference. He simply suggested that Brady should expect even worse over-inflation in the next game.
—Role of rival owners. If Brady were allowed to go on the offensive with an investigation of the NFL’s investigation, an interesting line of questioning would be exactly how the rival owners weighed in to pressure Goodell to issue extremely harsh penalties to both Brady and the Patriots.
Though the Colts’ maneuvers at the end of the first half in the AFC Championship game failed to disrupt the Patriots’ game plan, the ensuing public furor over Deflategate offered a potential for other team owners to severely damage the Patriots’ 2015 season and to hobble them in future years by taking away two prime draft picks.
One might assume that Goodell would have shielded the investigation from such pressures, but he didn’t. His own report and ESPN disclosed that rival owners were pressing for a hard line against Brady, with the NFL Management Council even intervening to advise Goodell how he should evaluate certain pieces of evidence.
Thus, what may have begun as a case of clever gamesmanship by the Colts may end up as an assault on the competitive integrity of the NFL. It would surely be interesting to see how Goodell on the witness stand would respond to questions of bias. But it appears that the NFL’s preemptive move to locate the case before a corporate-friendly Manhattan judge may steal from Brady his day in court.
[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Holes in NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Report”; “Why Write about NFL’s ‘Deflategate’”; “Tom Brady and Theoretical Crime”; “NFL’s Deflategate Findings ‘Unreliable’”; and “The Tom Brady Railroad”]
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.