More than three months after the country was engrossed in an NFL scandal involving the New England Patriots and a bag full of allegedly underinflated footballs, America gets to experience the thrills of Deflategate all over again. Yesterday, the league released the investigation report by Ted Wells, of the law firm Paul, Weiss. It concludes, in careful language, that “it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.” In simpler terms, the Patriots probably did … something.
Coach Belichick is exonerated, but the report points at three guys. The first is Jim McNally, a part-time officials’ locker room attendant, and the second is John Jastremski, an equipment assistant.
The third guy, however, is Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback. The report says that Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”
That’s an ugly albatross to have hanging around your neck. It’s so fuzzy…. “generally aware”? What does that even mean? It sounds like the report is saying, “We can’t prove he did anything wrong, but we kinda think he did.”
The investigation found no direct evidence that Brady spoke to either Jastremski or McNally specifically about deflating footballs before the A.F.C. championship game, or that he discussed the situation afterward. It does note that after the Deflategate scandal broke, Brady spoke to Jastremski on the telephone for the first time in six months, and that Brady sent Jastremski a series of texts, including “You good Jonny boy?” and “You didn’t do anything wrong bud.” (These came from Jastremski’s phone, as Brady did not make his cell-phone records available to investigators.) Brady also told investigators that he did not know McNally’s name or what he did for the team, which is something that Jastremski disputed in an interview and seems contradicted by the text-message conversations between Jastremski and McNally — text messages in which the two men discuss Brady’s preferences for the inflation level of footballs, and his dissatisfaction in a particular case of overinflation
So Brady, it seemed, lied about knowing the the main deflater. But does that mean everything is a lie?
Even in the most heated days of the national Deflategate obsession, nearly everyone agreed that Tom Brady could have been throwing shot putts and still beat the Colts. Former players who weren’t busy expressing outrage were coming forward to point out the many ways in which footballs have been tweaked over the years by quarterbacks to suit their preferences or to gain an advantage. If the N.F.L. was so serious about the integrity of its footballs, then why did it allow each team to supply its own?
So in the end, this report, despite its headline findings, has enough ambiguity in it to leave all factions satisfied and unsatisfied. Diehard New England fans will continue to defend the Pats to the end. Most everyone else was already convinced that they were cheaters.
Perhaps the best response is the cynical one: “They want to win real bad. So, sometimes you do stuff that’s not fair, so that you can win,” the comedian Louis C.K. told David Letterman. “I think it’s hilarious. I mean, why not? It’s a stupid football game.”