I went on the record here right after this whole mess started by stating I thought the Patriots were “obviously” at fault. A day later I was not nearly so sure. And now I am convinced the Patriots are simply the victims of Roger Goodell’s incompetence. The only thing that has kept this story alive is the NFL’s lack of transparency. In truth, it is, as the Bard penned, “much ado about nothing.” The naysayers will have you believe that this is really about the integrity of “them game” and the NFL. Well, that went right out the window when Goodell decided, for God knows what reason, to be 100% secretive about what they knew. To make matters worse, there have been leaks from “well-placed sources.” Goodell’s absolute failure to address any of those leaks shows exactly how incompetent he really is. And worst of all, this has generated more adverse controversy than the Ray Rice scandal ever did. And this is all over how much a bunch of footballs were inflated in a game where both teams have stated they could have been playing with a bar of soap and the outcome would have been the same?
First of all there is a rat on the loose. By that I mean, for this to have gained any momentum at all someone at some team, I am betting on Baltimore, complained to the league offices that he suspected the Patriots of using underinflated balls. What this coward did not do is bring it up immediately but waited until just before the AFC Championship game. It is also my bet that this person was not the owner, head coach or other official of the Ravens at that level but someone at a slightly lower level who spoke out of turn, without permission of his boss, but that the statement made, like Pandora’s box, raised the specter of impropriety forcing the NFL to take action.
Roger Goodell is informed and realizes he must do something to maintain the integrity of the game. Had this been his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, he would have quickly, and quietly, informed the 32 owners of the suspicion which had been raised and that checks on the condition of the balls would be made. Had Goodell done that, the actions of a good leader, the only thing we would have talked about over the past 8 or 9 days, would have been the Super Bowl match-ups. But of course Goodell lacked common sense and allowed the opening of Pandora’s box.
Goodell is a lawyer and should be well versed in the concept of total transparency during an investigation. In most investigations the public’s demand for information is answered in a reasonable way. The public is generally given enough information from the investigators, and/or, the originators, so they have a fair understanding of what is transpiring. In this case, however, Goodell has allowed speculation, hyperbole, unsubstantiated leaks, and all sorts of foolishness to grow and fester in the public’s mind. Journalists, broadcast and print, have fallen into the trap and become proponents of even the flimsiest of statements. The latest being that the NFL has video of a ballboy doing something. That of course came from Fox news who, like journalist tend to do, refuse to name their sources. And that has been the downfall of every journalist to date. They have allowed all these unsubstantiated reports to take on a life of their own and added to it by introducing their own theories. It is exactly like the Salem witch trials: a harmless interaction between two girls and their nanny is mixed with fear and sensationalism, and suddenly what should have been attributed to youthful foolishness turns into something ugly and entirely unwarranted.
Goodell blew it a second time when he had the opportunity, Wednesday January 21 at the latest, to tell us what the league knew for fact, not speculation. He could have said something like, “the head linesman checked all 12 Patriots balls and found 11 of them did not meet the minimum requirement. They were between 1/2 and 1 p.s.I. out of range. At this moment we do know the reason for this but we have no reason to believe they have been tampered with. We will, however, continue to investigate this and will report our finding when completed.” A statement like that which would have been 100% true would likely have made this backburner news for everyone. It would not have let the Patriots off the hook but simply by saying that they know of no tampering would have put this entire issue in proper light.
For my entire adult working life I worked in jobs which required research. I have been published in a scientific journal, ( http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/abs/10.2514/6.2003-379), and submitted scholarly papers at Harvard University. In all instances it was both expected and required that I name my sources and reference primary sources. A primary source is an actual witness to an event or scientific proof of an assertion. Without that my assertions have no merit and can be dismissed as untrue. It is that principle I call the journalists who have reported on this mess to hold themselves to. I believe that if they have graduated from any reputable school of journalism, they were taught that this principle reigns supreme. Otherwise good journalists have allowed themselves to be caught up in this foolishness. It is foolishness because to date not a single shred of evidence of even this slightest amount of wrongdoing has been demonstrated. Goodell could have done on Wednesday what Bellichik did on Saturday and that would have been the end of it. He could have said on Wednesday that he has instructed all 32 teams to be more vigilant with regard to ball pressure during the course of a game. But when you lack the common sense principles of good leadership, you fail to do these things.
For Roger Goodell this football season has been an unmitigated disaster and he has only himself to blame. If he has an ounce of integrity, immediately following this inquiry’s finding he will resign for the good of the league. His consistent bad judgment cannot be tolerated.