Reprinted from Consortium News
Given all the serious news in the world, some readers have criticized me for writing about the NFL's "Deflategate" report, which accused New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady of participating in a scheme to under-inflate footballs in a big game. Frankly, when I began reading the report out of curiosity on Wednesday, I had no intention of writing anything.
But the report, authored by NFL outside counsel Ted Wells, reminded me of so many other one-sided reports that I have read in my 37 years in Washington. I felt like the anti-slavery German bounty hunter in "Django Unchained" who, against his better judgment, shoots the vile plantation owner. I couldn't help myself from pointing out the slanted evidence and selective narrative.
There was something profoundly unfair about the report, which operated under the theory of "more probable than not" judgments that were then compounded. For instance, the report first applies this 51 percent rule as to whether something actually happened although there was no clear-cut evidence that anything did, i.e., no confessions, no witnesses, no visual proof.
The many variables -- cold temperatures, rainy weather and the pre-game scuffing up of the balls -- could have explained all or almost all the pounds per square inch drops that were detected at halftime of the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015. But Wells decided to brush aside any innocent possibilities and proceed to build a tendentious, circumstantial case.
Wells then judged that two locker room attendants "more probabl[y] than not" conspired to lower the air pressure. Then -- again without any specific evidence -- Wells decided that it was "more probable than not" that Brady "was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities."
In other words, according to Wells, there was a 51 percent chance that something happened and, if it did happen, there was an additional 51 percent chance that Brady knew something about it. If you follow the logic and do the math, that means there was a 26 percent chance that Brady was guilty of something -- and that would mean that there's no preponderance of evidence supporting Brady's guilt, just a one-in-four chance.
But Brady is still supposed to be severely punished. All the pundits and much of the public say so. Whatever you think of Brady, this approach is troubling.
The shoddy reporting on the "scandal" has made matters worse. For instance, if you ask almost anyone which team -- the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts -- played most of the game using under-inflated footballs, nearly everyone would say the Patriots. But the real answer is the Colts, who used footballs under the 12.5 psi minimum in both the first half and the second half.
NFL officials were even aware that one of the gauges used to test the footballs -- the one that was accurate -- registered three of the four Colts footballs that were tested as below the legal limit, yet left them in the game because of the higher results from a second inaccurate gauge. The psi numbers for the fourth ball were transcribed inaccurately so we don't know about that one.
After the game was over, three of the four Colts balls that were checked also were below the legal limit. The fourth was not. By comparison, the four Patriots footballs checked after the game were within the legal parameters. But the conventional wisdom is that the Colts' footballs were all inflated legally, making the Patriots' situation more suspicious.
Few people also know what touched off the "incriminating" text messages between the two locker room attendants about football air pressure. It was an illegal act committed not by the Patriots but by NFL officials who over-inflated Patriot footballs for an important divisional game against the New York Jets on Oct. 16, 2014.
After the game, which the Patriots won 27-25, blocking a last-second field goal attempt by the Jets, Brady complained bitterly to John Jastremski, an equipment assistant responsible for preparing the game balls. When Jastremski tested the balls, he found them to be extremely over-inflated, beyond the legal upper limit of 13.5 psi.
"The refs fucked us," Jastremski wrote in a text message, "a few of them were at almost 16" psi. "They didnt recheck them after they put air in them." In other words, NFL officials violated NFL rules regarding the proper inflation of footballs and it could have contributed to a Patriots loss to a hated rival.
It makes sense that NFL quarterbacks are particular about how the footballs feel to them, like a Major League pitcher cares about the preparation of baseballs or, for that matter, how a carpenter feels about his tools. These items represent their livelihoods -- and in the case of an NFL quarterback, he is working before millions of spectators and his performance can have profound consequences for his team's success and his own wealth.