The NFL is extremely good at making money. It’s less good at dealing with anything besides making money, like keeping track of its own rules, dealing with its player’s health and labor issues, and the off-field behavior of its employees and owners.
So when it comes to the allegations that New England Patriots employees deflated footballs prior to the AFC Championship game this past January (and, as other teams contend, as they did all season), the NFL has uniformly handled it the most insane way imaginable. Instead of a focused investigation into the allegations, the league responded by commissioning a pretty hilarious 243-page report, including a nine-page statistical analysis of the inflation levels of the footballs confiscated during last year’s AFC championship game.
The report concludes that the balls were indeed deflated, and as confirmed by text messages, Tom Brady most likely knew about the deflating (it’s less clear if he arranged the deflation). The details are hilariously outlined in a Warren Report-style document, which was prepared by a law firm associated with the league.
A punishment should have been immediately handed down. But that’s not the NFL’s way.
So what happens next? We know Tom Brady was involved in cheating. We also know that many teams in the NFL do the same thing. Unfortunately, the Patriots got caught. League-wide flaunting of the rules does not make a solid defense of rule-breaking, so there’s little further arguments to be made. More important than actually cheating, Brady (who, as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, has a huge target on his arm) ended up getting caught. A punishment should have been immediately handed down. But that’s not the NFL’s way.
With the help of a ravenous sports media, this story will continue to drag out, like a budget bill kicking around Congress—mostly because the NFL is staking out the moral high ground while being confronted with the call to punish one of its biggest stars. The league must at least appear ethically unimpeachable, and one ways to do that is to bury its head in long-winded reports. Sadly, the NFL has no need for clarity or decisiveness.
Will there be an asterisk forever next to the Patriots Super Bowl season? Nope. Will Brady face a suspension of a few games next season? Most likely. And that’s not terrible—it is a just punishment for getting caught manipulating the game in your favor (which, for better or worse, is a tactic that has served the Patriots well). What needs to happen now is for this to finally end—not because it isn’t endlessly hilarious (which it is), but because what happened is sort of obvious. Brady cheated and got caught.
Decisiveness is not the NFL’s way, but for once, here’s hoping they just get on with the punishment so people can change their fantasy lineups accordingly. And Patriots fans can stop acting like the largest martyrs in the world.
Photos by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images