I still can’t speculate as to what the truth is, but neither can anyone else yet. The NFL’s investigation is scheduled to end tomorrow, so hopefully we get some closure…
The NFL Live crew, including Trey Wingo, Mark Brunell, Jerome Bettis, and Brian Dawkins should lose their jobs with ESPN — irrespective of the outcome from this investigation. They just called Brady guilty based upon his press Q&A today. I don’t care about Brunell’s own process when he was a QB; that’s not a transitive property for indicting Tom Brady. These anti-experts and pseudo-analysts can take their halo effects elsewhere. This is where accountability and responsible journalism should be exercised or enforced. I’m making a $hit list, and I’m recording it here. It’s mostly ESPN pundits so far, because that’s just my availability bias, but I’ll add more as we go:
- Ron Borges
- Trey Wingo
- Mark Brunell
- Jerome Bettis
- Brian Dawkins
- Kevin Blackistone
- Woody Paige
- Bill Plaschke
- Michael Wilbon
First, I’m going to boycott ESPN, effective immediately, which is long overdue. They’re like Exxon gas stations, Uber, McDonalds, Goldman Sachs, or KFC: they’re all dead to me. Next, I’m going to do my part to make sure the rogue members of the media are held responsible, including trolling them as hard as I can, just in case their employers’ punishment isn’t worthy of their crime.
Pre-game, each starting QB chooses a minimum of 12 game balls. (In this case, 24 balls each due to the weather, as the second dozen was a reserve for the 2nd half, if needed.) 1½ hours before kickoff, the refs inspect those balls for length, width, weight, inflation, etc. The inflation range is 12.5 – 13.5 PSI by rule.
Given the weather conditions, maybe Brady really couldn’t feel the balls in-game!? QBs spend time choosing and curating their footballs pregame so they don’t consciously/subconsciously have to think about it in the game — so they can think of the game itself. Hence, let’s not dwell on Brady’s lack of perception in-game as evidence of anything.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not throw his quarterback under the bus. QB Tom Brady didn’t throw a lowly ballboy under the bus. Both men simply said that they themselves didn’t have any knowledge; you can ask the next guy who might’ve been involved. That chain of command is clear to any onlooker. It’s not passing-the-buck or a culpable offense to mention other parties who’re involved.
Tom Brady’s somber mood in front of the media today could have been his guilt seeping through just as much as his trying not to be smug in the face of a scandal or pissed about the distraction. Think about the conviction with which steroids users like Lance Armstrong and Ryan Braun denied their allegations. As a society, we’re almost inclined to mistrust such vehemence. Who knows what’s real or what’s political posturing. Let’s not read into body language and other such false positives.
We might never find out what happened here. The NFL’s investigation might yield nothing. Despite the referees’ pregame inspections, despite cameras everywhere, and despite third parties (potential witnesses) along the sidelines, the NFL might not have evidence to arrive at a conclusion.
If Belichick and Brady are telling the truth, only a few things could’ve happened to their gameballs to make 11 of 12 1st half balls underinflated:
- The balls were underinflated before they were given to the refs: as Aaron Rodgers said in an unrelated interview months ago, it’s common for QBs to push the limits of the legal inflation range before the refs’ inspection, because the refs will inflate/deflate to a reasonable spec; reports claim the Pats’ balls were 2 PSI (16%) below the acceptable range, which is objectively significant, so I’d be surprised if this were the cause; let’s hope the refs record results from their inspection so we can rule this in or out
- The balls could’ve been naturally deflated: whether the weather or a Gronk-spike/Solder frog-splash, it’s a matter of the laws of physics, and I don’t think that 2 PSI could come out of balls due to these natural causes; I’m sure such tests are part of the NFL investigation so we’ll be able to rule this in or out
- The balls were a bad batch: unlikely, but Wilson Sports Equipment would have a PR nightmare
- Somebody actually manipulated the batch of balls: this would’ve had to have occurred after the refs’ inspection…
The question that needs to be asked — that the public needs answered — is ‘what happens to the balls after the referees’ inspection?’ Tom Brady was asked that question in his presser today, and not even he knew. (I’m shocked that the NFL hasn’t held a press conference of its own yet.) I know the refs mark the acceptable balls after approval, and I expect the batches are securely locked-away until gametime. I don’t know the latter for a fact though. It seems nobody knows the protocol there. Thereafter, I also know that a designated ballboy (the home team’s employees) is responsible for each team’s batch of balls on the sideline, but again, there’s a black hole in our knowledge of the procedure across that 1½ hours before kickoff.
I’m not being a homer; I’m not being a contrarian either. I’m trying to be rational, realistic, and unbiased. We just don’t know enough about this case to make any judgements or speculate. What’s unfortunate about this is that the Patriots are a victim of their own success already. They’re much hated across the country because of their squeaky clean, golden boy QB, their Midas-touch coach, etc. Even if you don’t buy any of that — nor the objective data that says they’re the best, ever, at what they do — you have to respect their legacy. Image is an important ingredient in a legacy. You only get once chance to make a first impression, and Brady’s was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Yet, a last impression can last forever. I hope this isn’t this dynasty’s last impression.
If the evidence says they’re guilty, damn them: I don’t care if they would’ve beat Indy “with a bar of soap,” they broke the rules, and that’s cheating.
If they’re proven innocent, thank gawd.
If the NFL can’t find evidence of any wrongdoing or any explanation, that’s a real crime: robbing someone of their reputation.
My biggest fear is that the Patriots won’t be fully exonerated of these accusations, were the NFL’s investigation to be inconclusive or lack evidence. The public is fickle, especially when persuaded thusly by their media diet. I’d hate to see someone’s place in history wrongly fashioned by misinformation. And unfortunately, the public’s confirmation bias will heighten their perception that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.
This isn’t a case of “innocent until proven guilty,” because this isn’t a formal, legal trial… and I’m all for vigilante justice. No matter the outcome, the irresponsible journalists propagating rumors and speculation, which they often misrepresented as known fact, should be punished.