11 May 2015

Did the NFL get the 'Deflategate' punishment right?

As Gerald Ford once said, "our long national nightmare is over" (Update: now it's over). In the wake of the release of the Wells Report last Wednesday (read it here), the NFL has finally levied its penalties for the "Deflategate" scandal. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been suspended four games, the franchise has been fined $1 million and has two draft picks (2016 first, 2017 fourth), and the two employees directly implicated in the report (assistant equipment manager John Jastremski and officials locker room attendant Jim McNally) have been suspended indefinitely.

Did the NFL get it right? I'm not sold and here is why.

Starting with the Brady suspension, I'm ultimately not surprised that he is getting four games (on the high-end of what I was thinking). Ultimately, a key reason as to why Brady was suspended was that he did not fully comply with the investigation as he failed to provide text messages and emails (he did meet with investigators for what it's worth). That sounds a little ridiculous, especially considering that the report did not find any hard, actual evidence that Brady was involved as Yahoo's Frank Schwab noted. The report said that "it is more probably than not" that Brady "was at least generally aware" of the activities of Jastremski and McNally. That's it.

The penalties against the organization, as in the loss of draft picks and the fine, do not jibe with the Wells Report, which says this:
We do not believe that the evidence establishes that any other Patriots personnel participated in or had knowledge of the violation of the Playing Rules or the deliberate effort to circumvent the rules described in this Report. In particular, we do not believe that there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick or any other Patriots coach in the matters investigated.
So the organization beyond Jastremski and McNally was not found to be complicit, and the report said that the organization provided "substantial cooperation throughout the investigation," and yet the organization was penalized. The league invoked Spygate as justification for their penalty towards the team and Brady. However, it seems odd for that to be factored in as justification for the Brady suspension when Brady was never connected to that.

One point that many, including me, have made is that had this not involved the Patriots, it would not have as big of an issue. After all, it was only in December that the Panthers and Vikings were caught warming footballs during a game, a violation of league rules, and they were only warned by the league. The Chargers were caught using towels with an adhesive substance to their game balls back in 2012 and then a team employee failed to surrender said towels, but they were fined only $20,000. Now we can debate whether what the Patriots did was worse and all that, there is no question that you have got three cases of doctoring of game balls and one punishment that is not like the others.

I asked back in January if this whole thing was being overblown and I am still inclined to say yes. There is no question that doctoring of footballs is a serious and legitimate issue but it seemed to have only become a serious issue on the part of the league after the AFC Championship Game. And the Colts had told the league about their concerns with the balls before that game and the league didn't do anything about it initially. But once it was seen as a big issue in the public, the NFL lost their composure and helped to make the scandal more than it probably was (to borrow some of the frequent language of the Wells Report). Now we have got a player who has yet to be directly connected to the football deflation suspended for twice as long as Ray Rice was initially.

The NFL still cannot get out of its own way.

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