The NFL proved once again Monday that it has no clue what it’s doing when it comes to disciplining its players.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games for his role in the (cringingly-dubbed) Deflategate scandal. The team was also fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks, including a first round selection in 2016. For anyone not familiar with the situation, in January’s AFC Championship Game, the Patriots used footballs that were under-inflated in accordance to league rules. This makes the ball easier to grip and therefore, easier to throw and catch.
At the time, it was alleged Brady ordered team equipment personnel to deflate the footballs to his liking after the game officials had inspected them. In the press conferences that followed (in the week before the Super Bowl I must add) Brady denied having ever done anything of the sort. Last week, a 243-page report came out that stated it was “more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware” that air was released from the game balls.
Well, I don’t know about you guys, but the investigator certainly sounds pretty sure of himself to me. (This is where a sarcasm font would come in handy.)
The supposed “smoking gun” that said Brady was a cheater were some text messages exchanged between Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski. In the conversation from October 2014, McNally refers to himself as “the deflator.” The two talk about “Tom” “taking care” of them (giving them shoes, autographed balls, etc.) for helping out.
Again, at his press conference in January after the story broke, Brady denied ever asking for the footballs to be deflated.
Now to my point. I don’t doubt that Brady acted outside the rules to try to get a leg up and then lied about it. As a man, I think less of him because of it. That said, I completely disagree with his suspension. In fact, I don’t think he should have been suspended at all.
The truth is, this “evidence” against him is completely circumstantial. Never does it say he instructed his minions to deflate the football to a level outside of the rules. He may have asked them to take some air out, but who’s to say they didn’t mess up and just take too much out? That’s probably not what happened, but I don’t believe you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t given the evidence presented.
In fact, I’ve seen nothing that convinces me that Brady knowingly broke the rules. Given the vague language in the Wells Report (“more than not” and “at least generally aware”), I don’t know how anyone could be sure enough to justify any suspension, let alone a quarter of the season.
To put this in perspective, one incident comes to mind when a guy wasn’t proven guilty but discipline was rendered by the league anyway.
In 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student. It was the second time he’d been accused of sexual misconduct since joining the NFL. He ended up not being charged by the state of Georgia and was never in any legal trouble over the issue. The league still suspended him six games under its personal-conduct policy. That suspension was later reduced to four games.
In my mind, you have two cases that both involve someone allegedly doing something they shouldn’t but there just isn’t enough evidence to say definitively that they are guilty. One of them is a felony under federal law, the other is the football equivalent to a pitcher using an emery board to scuff up a baseball. While I would argue Roethlisberger probably wasn’t punished enough (at least in an actual courtroom), suspending Brady the same amount of time seems absolutely ludicrous to me.
Furthermore, just this past December, the NFL adopted a new policy on domestic abuse. The suspension for a first offense is six games. Suppose for a second Brady SHOULD be suspended. Is a 350-pound Hulk beating up a woman or a child seriously only two games more serious of a violation that letting a little air out of the footballs? I certainly don’t think so.
I realize the NFL is attempting to make an example out of Brady. But, in the process, it’s only making itself look that much more clueless.