Reprinted from Consortium News
By getting a favorable ruling from a management-friendly federal appeals court in New York, the National Football League has won what may be a decisive round in its bizarre "Deflategate" campaign to brand quarterback Tom Brady a perjurer and a cheater and to hobble the New England Patriots by stripping them of two draft picks and suspending Brady for a quarter of the season.
But there is a bigger message in this long-running, silly saga, which may have come to an endpoint on Wednesday when the full U.S. Court of Appeals in New York refused to rehear arguments. The case against Brady is a microcosm of how a powerful institution can override logic, reality and fairness to punish an individual -- even one with more-than-average means to defend himself -- and how limited the checks and balances are in the modern United States.
Based on the NFL's own depiction, here is the essence of its conspiracy theory: Before the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015, Brady conspired with two locker-room employees to have one of them insist to the officials that the Patriots' game balls be set at the lower legal limit of 12.5 pounds per square inch, but then took advantage of the fact that the NFC Championship game went into overtime (forcing a delay in the start of the AFC game) so he could carry the game balls down to the field unattended, slip into a bathroom and hastily release tiny amounts of air from the Patriots' footballs, supposedly to give Brady some advantage (although the reduced air pressure would actually make the footballs slightly slower and easier to defend).
According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling in the case, the AFC Championship game was the only time the Patriots' ball boy could have carried out this scheme because officials would have accompanied him down to the field at other Patriots' home games.
This NFL's charge against Brady took shape a year and a half ago after the Patriots' opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, intercepted one of Brady's passes in the first half of the AFC Championship game and found the ball to have a PSI below the 12.5 PSI legal limit. The NFL officials then used two gauges to test all the Patriots' game balls (and a few Colts' balls) during halftime and found all the Patriots' balls below 12.5 PSI (as well as the Colts balls on the gauge that was determined to be the more accurate one).
Some NFL source then leaked the fact that the Patriots balls were under-inflated and falsely claimed that the Colts' balls were all properly inflated, touching off a classic media firestorm with a rush to judgment that Brady and the Patriots were guilty of intentionally doctoring the footballs to gain an unfair advantage.
The Brady-is-a-cheater storyline became so entrenched -- and it had such a value to the other 31 NFL teams because they would get an edge over the Patriots if Brady were suspended and his team lost draft picks -- that it subsequently didn't matter what the evidence actually showed or didn't show.
It later was acknowledged that none of the NFL officials who checked the footballs understood the physics involved. Since the game was played on a cold and rainy night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the football air pressure would naturally decline by about the amounts shown on the gauges, according to the Ideal Gas Law, which has been around for nearly two centuries. Even the NFL's own hired-gun scientific firm, Exponent, concluded that all or virtually all of the PSI change could be explained by the lower temperatures alone.
Also, after the Deflategate conspiracy theory first was spun, Brady and the two locker-room employees, Jim McNally (the ball boy) and his immediate superior John Jastremski, repeatedly denied participating in any such scheme. Brady did so under oath. And the NFL presented no direct evidence to contradict their denials.
The best the NFL could do was argue that theoretically a little bit of the PSI decline could have come from tampering and cited some circumstantial evidence that looked suspicious. For instance, NFL lawyers noted that McNally stopped in a bathroom for one minute and 40 seconds while carrying the ball bags to the field on Jan. 18, 2015.
McNally said he was simply relieving himself because he wouldn't have another chance until halftime, but the NFL made much of him saying he used a "urinal" when there was only a "toilet" in the bathroom (although how that was relevant is hard to understand, since McNally -- whether he was deflating footballs or urinating -- would have seen the toilet).
Because the Patriots voluntarily turned over to the NFL the cell phone text messages between McNally and Jastremski, the league's lawyers also took a few exchanges out of context and made them seem incriminating, such as a back-and-forth discussion about how NFL officials had over-inflated the footballs in an earlier game against the New York Jets.