Did I miss something in the NFL yesterday? I kid, I kid… I have purposefully stayed out of the various developments swirling around the New England Patriots since the end of last January’s AFC Championship game, but wanted to take a quick moment to throw a few things out there given yesterday’s judicial decision.
Folks that know me are aware that I have long admired New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. They also know that I am the furthest thing from a lawyer, so if you decide to read any further, understand that these are the views of a layman and not based on any formal legal training. I’m guided only by my own values and sense of fairness in this case.
None of my respect for Brady changed during the ‘Deflategate’ saga, ironically enough, a situation inflated and conflated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s ineptitude. It was a needless drama, possibly inspired by hurt feelings on the part of a cabal of owners seeking to put Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and the Patriots in their place after nearly a decade and a half of success punctuated by four Super Bowl championships. I say possibly because unlike the NFL- I have no real evidence that is actually the case, and unlike the NFL- though it is “more probable than not” that he was being pressured to make a massive disciplinary overreach by people who were unable to beat the Patriots on the gridiron, I can’t actually prove that Goodell and Co. were like so many puppets on an owner’s (or owners’) string.
Whether you root passionately for Brady and Patriots or despise them with every fiber of your being, this is America.
You establish guilt based on evidence, not conjecture. You deal with facts as they exist, not what you want them to be. You convict someone whose guilt is proven, not because you’re sick and tired of seeing him win games and come out ahead. Even the most obstinate of the Patriots haters have to grudgingly concede that there is no smoking gun here. While that probably doesn’t change the ‘CHEATER!’ narrative they’ve used to soothe their own inadequacies when it comes to dealing with the existing facts, even if they won’t publicly acknowledge it on the Internet message boards and comments sections of Deflategate articles, they know in their heart of hearts it was a screwjob from jump street.
Not only did the NFL fail to conclusively prove Brady had anything to do with the willful tampering of footballs, members of the league’s leadership went out of their way to besmirch a marquee talent so that he would be convicted in the court of public opinion.
That tactic worked, but the entire orchestrated farce could not stand up in a court of law, so I applaud Judge Berman for doing the right thing and not further enabling the NFL’s abuse of power in this case.
Ultimately, Goodell may have just been acting in the interest of several influential owners who wanted the Patriots punished and actively worked behind the scenes to galvanize the league into action. We’ll probably never know the truth unless some big wig’s cell phone and texts shows up on TMZ. But the moral cowardice and blatant hypocrisy committed by ‘league sources’ to wantonly leak damaging information to media water-carriers who in turn smeared a Hall of Fame player and one of the top teams in America’s premier professional sports league is unconscionable.
Unlike the NFL with Brady, I won’t pronounce them guilty, even if the mounting evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of an organization that when left unchecked, acted like some third-rate banana republic replete with willing dupes in the fourth estate manipulated by Goodell’s loyal sycophants into validating a kangaroo court.
This isn’t about cheating…it’s about consistency and applying a fair and honest standard to real and established misconduct within the codified rules and regulations governing the league. Goodell and his minions have a penchant for making things up as they go along. That might work in a backyard pickup game, but the NFL’s fans- you know- the ones who fill the league’s coffers to overflowing- they deserve much better.
But don’t just take my word for it. Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, not a Patriots shill, had turned a jaundiced eye towards Goodell, Troy Vincent and the NFL some time ago, when things like the Wells Report and the NFL’s actions began to generate more questions instead of answers. Once the proceedings landed in court and the NFL could no longer control the narrative by suppressing what happened during Brady’s appeal hearing, Wetzel started holding the NFL’s feet to the fire in earnest. Today, he administers an appropriate spanking, which if taken in context of fairness and the way we as Americans should expect due process to happen, pretty much leaves little to debate.
If after reading this, your response is still ‘CHEATER!’ so be it. But, I would submit you are exhibiting the height of intellectual dishonesty if you don’t at least, in the very back of your mind, fear that it might happen to your favorite player one day. If the NFL went after Tom Brady the way they did, then no one is safe. And that, my friends- is why the way the league metes out player discipline must fundamentally change.
And now back to hockey…