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"Deflategate" Cloud over the Super Bowl

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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Yes, I know that many people hate Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. And many others couldn't care less that the National Football League deemed Brady a cheater, a liar and a perjurer over the silly Deflategate scandal. But that is why it makes an excellent case study of how a powerful institution and its clever lawyers can make almost nothing into almost anything and get many people to go along.

Very similar techniques are used in more serious circumstances, such as the U.S. government and mainstream media demonizing some foreign leader in marching the American people in lockstep into another war.

So, the moral behind the story of Brady and the NFL is that the public should be alert whenever some powerful institution lodges an accusation against some figure who is widely disliked. The troubling truth is that often a mob-like excitement overwhelms any skepticism, leaving the few doubters of the establishment's claims labeled "apologists" and most everyone else going along.

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That was what happened in January 2015 when the Deflategate case began to unfold under the intense media spotlight of a Super Bowl. Brady and the Patriots headed into that game, Super Bowl 49, surrounded by amateur sleuthing into why the Patriots' footballs in the AFC Championship game had tested at halftime below the league standard of 12.5 pounds per square inch or PSI.

In retrospect, we can put together what actually happened: how NFL officials didn't know the physics of the Ideal Gas Law, how the media stampede gathered speed despite a dearth of evidence, and how rival NFL owners then seized on the "scandal" to hobble the Patriots and disgrace Brady. But many Americans, who rely on The New York Times or ESPN, may still believe the charges are credible.

An Inauspicious Beginning

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The story began on Jan. 18, 2015, on a cold and rainy night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where the Patriots were hosting the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.


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That last inaccuracy proved crucial as the "scandal" exploded across the news media in the following days. Many well-meaning sports fans argued that Brady must be guilty of having organized a plot to illegally deflate the footballs because otherwise the Colts' footballs would have shown a similar drop in PSI.

The reality is that the Colts' footballs did experience a PSI drop although the extent was somewhat lessened by the timing of the halftime tests in which the Colts' footballs were checked after having been in a warmer environment for nearly the entire halftime.

Over the following two weeks amid the Super Bowl media frenzy, there was a rush to judgment in both the sports press and in the mainstream media. Because of the widespread hatred of Brady and the Patriots -- especially among fans of teams that had lost painful games to Brady's team -- there was a strong "confirmation bias," that is, many people wanted to believe that Brady was guilty and thus any innocent action that could be spun in the direction of his guilt was seized upon.

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But it was not just most NFL fans and the media that wanted the Deflategate story to be true. More significantly, so too did the owners of the other 31 NFL teams. They saw a chance to hobble the Patriots, who had become the dominant NFL team of the century winning four Super Bowls and appearing in six (now seven).

Yet, as much as fans may want to give their favorite team a boost, that is nothing compared to the intensity that exists in an owner's box where not only pride but profits are at stake for owners if their teams can win lots of games and possibly a Super Bowl.

In view of that conflict of interest, you might have thought that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would have shielded the investigative process from the prejudice of the 31 other owners but he didn't. He allowed the NFL Management Council, consisting of powerful rival owners, to weigh in, even letting them recommend how he should evaluate evidence. Goodell's salary of around $35 million is controlled by the Management Council.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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