Kobritz Column: Who comes off worse here, Brady or the NFL?
Thoughts and musings on the Wells Report and its aftermath.
1. Wells' conclusion that it was "more probable than not" that low-level Patriots' employees were playing fast and loose with the air pressure in the game balls used in this year's AFC Championship game is typical NFLese. It's the legal equivalent of the "preponderance of the evidence" used in civil cases.
2. The Report's conclusion that Tom Brady was "at least generally aware" of the nefarious activity is more problematic. Throughout his career Brady has let it be known that he prefers footballs on the low end of the pressure scale allowed by the league. In an effort to please the star quarterback, it appears as if the employees took matters into their own hands and the result was right out of a Three Stooges playbook. If Brady suspected - or even if he knew - they were breaking the rules, was he obligated to snitch on them? If an umpire thinks a batter was hit by a pitch when he wasn't, should the batter correct the umpire?
3. Wells gave NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the opportunity to extend an olive branch to Patriots' owner Robert Kraft. Kraft is one of the league's power brokers and until DeflateGate, one of the Commissioner's staunchest supporters. Goodell could have said that the Report exonerated both Patriots' coach Bill Belichick and the team; therefore, there was no reason to punish them.
On the other hand, the coach is responsible for everything that goes on, and given the Patriots' history of rule breaking, Goodell could have fined both Belichick and the Patriots and forced the team to forfeit draft picks, in addition to suspending Brady. Goodell let Belichick off the hook, but suspended Brady for four games, fined the team $1 million and docked them two draft picks. So much for olives.
4. There was something for everyone in the 243-page Report. If you're a Patriots' hater - pretty much everyone who doesn't live in New England - the Report reinforces your belief that the Patriots win only because they cheat. If you're a Patriots fan, you're more convinced than ever that the NFL - and the entire world beyond New England - is jealous of the team's success during the past 15 years.
5. Anyone who says cheating is cheating doesn't know what they're talking about. Gaylord Perry won 317 games during a 22-year MLB career. In 1982 he was suspended 10 games for doctoring the baseball. Despite the suspension, Perry was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. That's where Brady will end up - in the football H-of-F.
On the other hand, Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was involved in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, has never been on the ballot for Cooperstown. There's cheating and then there's gamesmanship. What Jackson was accused of is the former; what Perry - and Brady - did is the latter.
6. A number of commentators are equating DeflateGate with the NFL's domestic violence problem, suggesting they both go to the integrity of the game. Sorry, we're talking apples and kittens here. Employing criminals - that's what those who commit domestic abuse are - is a PR nightmare for the league. It may damage the NFL brand, or shield to borrow Goodell's favorite word, but it doesn't go to the integrity of the sport. Messing with footballs does.
7. Brady isn't the only NFL quarterback who has a preference for footballs prepared a certain way. Former NFL quarterback Matt Leinart claims every quarterback "tampers with the football." His remarks were echoed by another former quarterback, Rich Gannon, who said DeflateGate is a "non-issue; everyone does something" to the football. Of course, not everyone gets caught.
8. The Wells Report is first and foremost an indictment of the NFL. There is no protocol for the officials to test - and record - the air pressure in game balls and no protocol for handling the footballs between the time they are tested and used in a game. At least five league officials were tipped off by the Colts that the Patriots doctored the footballs but still the league couldn't prevent it? For a $12 billion-a-year business, this is beyond embarrassing.
If the Patriots' employees look like clowns, the NFL looks sloppy and incompetent. That's inexcusable. It's time to get your house in order fellas.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.