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Venkataraman: Deflategate mismanaged by hypocritical NFL

Greetings, loyal readers. Those of you with long memories and short tempers may recall that the last time I wrote about DeflateGate, I promised to never speak of it again. As you may have surmised, I am reneging on that commitment owing to a most curious summer, filled with intrigue, deception, sneakiness and, oh yeah, the NFL taking a cake to the face in court.

For those of you who consume sports news from a source less biased than ESPN, the ‘facts’ (quoted because who really knows what’s going on anymore) are as follows: there exists a perception around the league that the New England Patriots — an organization famed for its secrecy, its ultimate commitment to Bill “Darth Hoodie” Belichick’s philosophy, and winning four Super Bowls in the last 15 years — play a little hard and fast with the NFL rulebook.

This perception really begins with SpyGate, a scandal that rocked the NFL in 2007 and, like Old Faithful, rears its ugly head on a supernaturally precise schedule, typically when the Patriots are being dragged through the mud. Teams are convinced that Belichick is an evil genius with spy cameras in every locker and showerhead, informers in every organization, and the ability to intercept radio signals by just furrowing his brow. What else could explain how the Patriots are able to win so consistently (I think it is just good coaching and preparation, but what do I know)?

This perception extends to the inflation of footballs, an issue so grave that the NFL has not given two shits about its enforcement throughout the history of the league.

Basically, the Baltimore Ravens, a team that has both won and lost big games versus the Patriots, were feeling sour over blowing a huge lead to the Patriots on the road in Foxboro in the AFC Divisional Round. As an act of revenge, a Ravens employee sent an email to the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots’ opponent in the AFC title game, warning them that the Patriots were known to play with underinflated footballs, and that this might be useful for getting the Pats busted.

The Colts promptly reported this allegation to the league office, which did…absolutely nothing, as it did when the Minnesota Vikings were caught inflating and heating footballs on the sidelines and when the New York Jets were caught deflating kicking balls. Instead, the league office waited until halftime of the AFC Championship game before checking in on the inflation levels of the Patriots’ footballs, where it found that the pressures were below the minimum permissible limit of 12.5 psi.

Thinking they had the Patriots by the balls, the NFL launched an official investigation into these matters, and began an ugly smear campaign, leaking erroneous and damaging information on a daily basis to ESPN.

The Pats were tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, and everyone thought it was all wrapped up when the Wells Report came out, with its damaging conclusion that it was ‘more probable than not’ that the Patriots were up to no good. Brady was suspended for four games, and the Patriots were fined a huge sum of money and docked a number of draft picks.

And then people started digging deeper. Independent parties excoriated the science in the Wells Report, finding that the pressure drop in the Patriots’ footballs was explained entirely by temperature differences. The report that eleven of the twelve Patriots’ footballs were significantly underinflated was proved to be totally false.

The report intentionally disregarded testimony by the officials who worked the AFC title game, and excluded any pieces of information that could have been used to clear the Patriots’ good name. The NFL, in possession of accurate information, failed to put it out into the open, letting the public work itself into a frenzy instead. And the neutrality of investigator, Ted Wells, was put in severe doubt, especially as the final report was edited for content by the NFL’s own legal counsel.

After Brady appealed, “neutral” arbitrator Roger Goodell not only maintained the decision, he made the leap from “more probable than not” to “guaranteed misconduct,” claiming with no new evidence that he was now 100 percent certain that Brady was guilty.

Before Brady could even consider filing suit in court, the NFL beat him to the punch, filing suit in pro-business New York to confirm its ruling. They were blindsided as Judge Berman sandblasted the NFL in his final decision, calling out its methods, its actions, and even its evidence. Brady went free, and the Patriots handily won their first three games of the season.

I might be a Patriots fan, but even I am not naive enough to think that no shenanigans occurred with football inflation AT SOME POINT last season. However, I’m pretty sure, and the science is with me on this, that NO such shenanigans occurred during the AFC title game, which is the only game the NFL was supposed to be investigating.

And the more days pass, the more I begin to think that the Patriots are held to an absurd double standard. The people quickest to pile on the Patriots are those who have lost to them often, those with axes to grind and former players who fall into the “seniority complex,” a sad situation in which they feel their own accomplishments are threatened by the new generation.

It is worth remembering that we are talking about tiny fractions of air missing from football, not murder or concussions or domestic violence or steroid use. It is also worth noting that had Judge Berman not intervened, Tom Brady would have been suspended for longer than Greg Hardy, who threw his partner onto a bed filled with guns and nearly choked her to death. The absurdity of this whole situation has not escaped me, and it is making me froth at the mouth.

Roger Goodell is the worst commissioner in sports. His regime has whiffed every time it has stood firm on an issue, and his actions are more embarrassing to the integrity of the NFL shield than the issues that he claim tarnish it. No one has ever cared about how much pressure a football has had until it became a free chance to eliminate a hated rival from the competitive landscape of the NFL, and the Colts and Ravens (and the NFL) took their chance and failed miserably.

I hope the NFL stops wasting its time on trivial issues and figures out what to do about its concussion, domestic violence, and criminal misconduct issues. And I hope that ESPN gets back some of the journalistic integrity that it so sorely lacked throughout this process.

After calling Roger Goodell the worst commissioner in sports, Vignesh Venkataraman is looking for suggestions for how to depose Gooddell and replace him with George Chen. Give him your ideas for how to pull off this feat off at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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