The Sins of the NFL

The NFL, and Roger Goodell in particular, created a monster that has been wreaking havoc on the villagers ever since. And after millions of dollars spent and over 210 days since the crime of the century, in NFL terms, what do we really know now? There are only three reasonable conclusions a rational person can come to from everything that has been reported: one, 11 of 12 Patriots footballs were measured and found to be below the minimum league standard and, two, existing NFL procedures were either circumvented or broken by the New England Patriots organization and, three, the NFL was lacking in protocol to insure the integrity of game day balls.

A reasonable person and good leader would have, by January 31, 2015, fined the Patriots $275,000 or more for the ball violations and moved on. Unfortunately there were other players in this game who desired something more. We now know that those individuals were Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens’ special teams coach. To be fair, it is likely other teams have complained about how the Patriots go about business over the years. But with the Colts playing the Patriots for the AFC championship the NFL felt the need to look into the Colts’ complaint. The league has both the right and responsibility to take such actions. But for reasons we will never know the league decided to play the game of “Gotcha!” That by itself was bad enough except a league official roamed the Patriots’ sideline at half-time and proclaimed, in particularly foul language, that the Patriots had been caught and were going down. His actions were reprehensible.

Roger Goodell had two choices that Monday morning, fine the Patriots for what had been found or launch an investigation. He decided it would be a lot more fun to open Pandora’s Box and see what flew out. But what Goodell failed to realize was that making visible the failures of the Patriots his own would necessarily come to light. But an extremely weak league leadership decided to make a murder mystery out of an illegal left turn violation.

For months now the focus has been on how the Patriots went about deflating footballs and how Tom Brady was involved. After he spent about $4 million, Ted Wells only conclusion, with regard to the Patriots, should have been that the Patriots organization acted contrary to NFL rules concerning the security and transportation of footballs. The actions of their ball boys show that to be true beyond any doubt, reasonable or otherwise.

But Ted Wells in all his wisdom declared, “But when you combine the break in protocol, the text messages, and the science, we felt comfortable reaching a judgment.” He is absolutely correct regarding the protocol, of dubious judgment regarding the texts, and entirely wrong regarding the science.

I accept the lapse in protocol as proven, it was. The text messages are a different thing however. Most damning was McNally calling himself “the deflator.” The Patriots foolishly tried to pass such a reference as the guy desiring to lose weight. Ridiculous! But the one question that needed to be asked of McNally, but never was, at least by Wells, was, “How long have you called yourself ‘the deflator?’” I suspect, and believe, that this moniker may well go back as far as 2007 when Brady and Manning got the league’s blessing to do things to the game balls so that the balls felt good to them. I suspect balls were tossed to Brady by the equipment manager and Brady would either accept or reject them because of how they felt in his grip. He likely complained about their inflation level and demanded they be deflated a little. But it is unlikely he either knew or considered league standards for inflation. This likely went on for years with McNally taking air out of balls on so many occasions over the years that he jokingly called himself “the deflator.” This in itself is damning to the Patriots because it shows a lack of control over their personnel. It is the job of equipment managers and those who work under them to thoroughly understand NFL regulations regarding any and all types of game day equipment for which they are responsible. The Patriots were obviously lax in this regard and absolutely deserved to be punished. The degree of punishment leveled in this particular situation is beyond any reasonable explanation to include, but not limited to, the integrity of the game.

As for the science, the only conclusion any reputable scientist can come to, given what was known, is that the 11 footballs were outside acceptable limits. How they got there is not provable. You cannot apply the gas law, or any other scientific measure, for one simple reason: there exists no verifiable starting point. A good and thorough scientific experiment requires repeatable and verifiable conditions. To do this the scientist would want all 24 game day balls. The first thing they do upon gaining possession of those balls is test their integrity, that is, they inspect the balls for flaws, leakage at the valve and all other points on the ball. That done they test to balls using very exacting conditions that mimic the game day. Of greatest interest to the scientist would have been the particular ball that lost the most pressure. That ball would be tested multiple times in an attempt to either show or disprove that the amount of pressure lost was natural or as the result of human intervention.

Any business that prides itself in its research abilities prides itself in being able to inform the customer of results which go contrary to their expectations. But we have no evidence that Exponent, the company Wells hired to do the scientific investigation, advised Wells of problems with the investigation either prior to or during the process. As someone who has done such investigations, I would have advised Wells that I would need the exact state of all 24 footballs prior the beginning of the game and that lacking such information any conclusion would be speculative at best. We do not know if Exponent ever said this to Wells but it is a reasonable question to ask.

The NFL, and Roger Goodell in particular, had one last chance to get in front of this whole debacle when the Wells Report was released. The report actually did a good job of showing the shortcomings of many individuals and organizations. It showed the Patriots organization did not follow NFL rules regarding the security of footballs. It showed that exact same thing for the referees present at the championship game. They too are fully responsible for ball security but not a single one of those officials took the Patriots to task for allowing McNally to even touch a single ball. It was not McNally’s job to carry footballs to the field of play and the officials should have known that. Furthermore, considering the gravity of the game, the head official should have assigned one of his team to accompany the footballs to the field. And lastly, the NFL was shown lacking in rules regarding care and security of the footballs. It acknowledged as much when it released its revised standards at the end of July 2015. All Goodell needed to do once the Wells Report was released was acknowledge that errors in judgment had been made at all levels. He still could have fined the Patriots, and should have, and ended this whole mess in a single act. It would not have been popular with a majority of the owners, his employer, but it would have been the right thing to do. But such a pronouncement would have shown he was truly concerned with the integrity of the NFL. A good leader recognizes that there are times he will have to stand against popular opinion in doing what is right.

Given all this, Tom Brady’s involvement in all this, even at the most egregious level, is rendered moot. Had those individuals and organizations involved in game day activities done their job, Brady could not possibly have been able to affect ball inflation. To the contrary, game officials would have quickly become aware of Brady’s involvement and been able to quickly and unequivocally correct and report his actions. That, of course, did not happen. The integrity of the game had been compromised for years because of the NFL’s own lacking. The NFL never cared enough to exhaustively define what game integrity involved and then put rules in effect which would guarantee it. Had such rules existed, this whole affair would have been reconciled prior to the AFC Championship game, Wells would never have been hired, and few people would even remember anything ever happened.


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