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Home / Culture and Society / Inside The Media’s Absurd Coverage of Deflategate and How the NFL Is to Blame for It
The vilification of the New England Patriots over the weight of a football needs to stop - now.

Inside The Media’s Absurd Coverage of Deflategate and How the NFL Is to Blame for It

As former NBA great Allen Iverson might say: We’re talking about PSI. Not the (big) game. We’re talking about PSI (pounds per square inch) in a stupid football. Indeed, “how silly is that?”

When Deflategate leads off all three network newscasts as it did Thursday night, you know that it has gotten completely and ridiculously out of control. You should feel embarrassed (as an American or wherever you are in the world reading this) that this “controversy” took precedence over the troubling resignation earlier that day of Yemen’s president Hadi, which has great implication in the U.S. fight against terrorism (particularly against al Qaeda). No, whether footballs had enough little ounces of air in them and whether that “evil” Pats head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady – who were each forced to have press conferences on this that afternoon – are responsible for the situation had to come first. Why? Because a controversy like that brings ratings. That is the only believable explanation.

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
Getty Images

Saturday afternoon, news coverage got even more absurd when CNN asked a panel: “Is Deflating Balls as Bad As Steroids?” You read that right. Feel free to laugh out loud at the accidental and inherent funniness in the question too, given what steroids can do to lessen a dude’s, um, package over time.

A Rush to Judgment – Blame the NFL

The first reports of a major/controversial event can sometimes turn out to be the most inaccurate ones. That much should be obvious. In this case, early reports from the likes of Newsday turned out to be wrong to say Colts defensive player D’Qwell Jackson started Deflategate. No, he handed the ball he intercepted from Brady in the first half of last Sunday’s AFC title game to an equipment manager to save as a souvenir. Other team members had the agenda to bring the alleged deflated ball to the league’s attention.

More importantly, ProFootballTalk reported Sunday that the NFL (not the Patriots) should share a lot of the blame for this so-called Deflategate fiasco. Contradicting what league sources told Chris Mortensen of ESPN several days ago, PFT’s Mike Florio said the league told him that 10 of 11 controversial Pats footballs may actually be under-inflated by closer to 1 PSI below the league minimum of 12.5 PSI, NOT the more “significant” 2 PSI that Mortensen reported as being the case for 11 of 12 footballs.

In a nutshell, what PFT just reported is close to what Belichick stated in his second press conference of the week, which took place on short notice Saturday afternoon. Belichick said that his own team of investigators found that there was only a natural net effect of a 1.0 PSI loss on footballs taken outside that start out inflated to 12.5, which Brady said he prefers. (Going forward, the Pats head coach said earlier that from now on – presumably starting with Super Bowl XLIX next Sunday against Seattle – the team will make sure the PSI for all footballs will be around the 13.5 range to avoid the evident loss of too much weight during a game.)

Singled Out (Again)

The facts are not all in, and will likely change again. But one thing is clear: Over seven years after “Spygate,” the Pats have been singled out yet again and investigated for something – if they actually did it – that others are actually guilty of. For example, we know now that former Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson paid people to screw around illegally with footballs before the 2003 Super Bowl game, and that Aaron Rodgers – likely this year’s MVP – likes to over-inflate footballs and thereby push the legal limits on that front. Additionally, Matt Leinart emphatically said everyone “tampers” with footballs. There was no investigation on Johnson’s footballs, and there won’t be any investigation on Rodgers’ footballs. You know it.

The NFL didn’t care about PSI before the Colts made a stink out of it – other reports suggest the Ravens “tipped” off the Colts and that former 20-year Jets employee and now NFL VP of Game Operations Mike Kensil is a driving force behind Deflategate as well, but that’s another story yet to be fleshed out itself. As Belichick said, the refs don’t (normally) test for it during games. If they did, there would surely be some true violations among the other 31 teams, to be sure.

Again, the NFL is largely to blame for this whole ridiculous “investigation” – even Brady, as of this writing, has still yet to be interviewed, while about 40 others have been, and won’t be until after the Super Bowl. As PFT pointed out, the league office effectively set a “trap” for the Pats instead of doing what past commissioners like Paul Tagliabue would likely have done: deal with the Colts’ concerns internally and give notice to the Pats that the league office is monitoring the situation and to stop any shenanigans if it’s going on.

What we have now is an unjust stain against one of the most successful organizations in the game, right before the Super Bowl. The damage to Brady’s reputation can’t be undone – The White House/Josh Earnest took a shot at him and he was just lampooned on Saturday Night Live this past weekend as well. It’s just awful to think that Brady’s kids will now likely be subjected to taunts that their father is a “cheater” and “liar,” even if it’s proven that in the end, he did nothing wrong and illegal here. Despite what ESPN know-it-alls like former NFL QB Mark Brunell say, it’s entirely debatable as to whether anyone, especially QBs, really can tell the difference between a 10.5 PSI football, 11.5 one, and 12.5 one at any given moment, especially during an (intense) NFL game. As Peter King of Sports Illustrated said, a football with even a 10 PSI “does not feel ‘soft’.”

Spygate, In Context

The media and sports world’s treatment of the Patriots now is also comparable to the terribly named “Spygate.” Although it should have been explicitly banned well before 2007, the Pats did nothing illegal (according to NFL rules) by recording, in clear daylight, video of the opposing team and their “signals.” The league-wide memo that went out to all teams in 2006 did not address filming signals. That’s important. A rule on camera “location” was the technical issue that the Pats got nailed on – and as I’ll explain later, other teams were guilty of that same offense but never got penalized.

Then-new commissioner Roger Goodell – an ex-Jets employee, it must be noted – was embarrassed that the NFL’s most successful team was doing this, especially after the memo went out, and thus punished the team harshly: $750,000 in fines and the loss of a conditional draft pick. It wasn’t a first round pick loss automatically, as many people have wrongly stated over the years. Making the playoffs (by virtue of a historic 16-0 record) is what made it a first round draft pick loss. If they didn’t make it, the loss would’ve been a lower round pick.

It’s clear that Goodell used this incident to try and level the playing field in the NFL, so-to-speak. It was an abuse of power. The punishment did not fit the crime. (It should’ve been a fine, but public outcry made this PR-conscious commissioner go over-the-top on Belichick and the team owned by his supposed pal, Robert Kraft.)

Signal-stealing is something that everyone from Marty Schottenheimer (Kansas City Chiefs) to Jimmy Johnson did, that (former Jacksonville coach) Jack Del Rio said was “commonplace,” and in the eight months prior to Spygate, the Jets/ex-Pats DC Eric Mangini did to the Patriots in a Wild Card playoff game (that they still lost). Even the legendary Tom Landry cheated when with the NYG – stealing radio frequencies from the Browns to call the right defenses in the same game. Where were the investigations and cries to punish them? Hey Jerome Bettis, are they “felons” too?

Stealing signs in baseball has been going on for decades too – likely by your favorite team at some point – and no one seems too care about the integrity of MLB being compromised by doing that. The only real punishment for such an offense is getting beaned in the ass. Right? In any event, if you didn’t know any non-Patriots team was attempting to cheat or actually did cheat the game, it’s because the NFL didn’t care to look into it, and neither did your favorite sports reporters. Putting Spygate in a more fair, accurate and historical context apparently was too much work. Plus, there wasn’t and still isn’t enough pervasive jealousy and hate of other teams and coaches to look into their shenanigans like there is of the three-time Super Bowl-winning Pats and their non-media darling coach, Belichick.

The Final Word

In closing, I believe that unlike Spygate, Deflategate will turn out mostly, if not completely well for the Patriots. Unfortunately, now that lawyers are involved, this may not happen until well after the Super Bowl next Sunday, at which point the media masses will have long moved on from the story. And so the results may not reach everyone it should.

I’d advise you (Pats fans and anti-fans) to read the Bleacher Report’s excellent 2009 article “The Truth About Spygate: Punishing Success and Promoting Parity.” It’s got all the goods on what exactly Landry, Marty and others did to get an edge (or outright cheat). You will come away from it with a stronger defense if you’re a Pats fan and should be a changed person when it comes to the Patriots if you currently consider yourself well, not a fan. Then again, haters are gonna hate. Still, if you’re in the latter camp, maybe some of you but will lessen your bias against them after reading it, even if it’s just for a while.

I look forward to reading about and possibly sharing with you a similarly titled article like “The Truth About Deflategate” in the hopefully not so distant future. Heck, I may just write such a piece myself when this is all over. We shall see.

Update: Amidst more controversial leaks coming out, Kraft came off the team airplane in Arizona last evening to emphatically call for the NFL to apologize to his whole organization for what it has been through this past week if the Wells investigation finds no guilt with it. Wells, who previously handled last year’s Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, said yesterday that this investigation will take “several more weeks.” The Super Bowl is now five days away.

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About Charlie Doherty

Senior Music Editor and Culture & Society (Sports) Editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Prior writing/freelancing ventures: copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. Keep up with me on twitter.com/chucko33

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