The NFL, Deflation and the Law

So the NFL season will kickoff tonight. I’m mildly excited. My main enthusiasm is for the college game, which got off to an amazing start this past weekend.

However, the NFL’s kickoff game will be Pittsburgh against New England, which took on added interest when a judge threw out Tom Brady’s suspension for his role in Deflategate, reinstating the quarterback for at least the first game of the season.

My opinion on deflategate has waxed and waned. My first reaction, as someone not overly fond of the Patriots or Brady, was to support a hefty punishment, especially in light of their previous cheating (Spygate). But as time has gone on, my opinion has changed. I skimmed through the Wells report and came away … unimpressed by the case against the Patriots and particularly against Brady. And when I read Judge Berman’s decision, I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with everything he said.

You can read Bill James for a very good evaluation.

Goodell cannot make up industrial law as he goes along. As Berman stated it, “It is the ‘Law of the Shop’ to provide professional football players with advance notice of prohibited conduct and potential discipline.” There is no trail anywhere suggesting that a player can be suspended for an equipment tampering violation. No player has ever been punished in a like manner for a like offense—and, in fact, there have been similar offenses committed in the past, with no punishment at all directed at the players who benefitted. In 2009, a New York Jets employee was caught using a sideline heater to warm up the football that would be used to a attempt a field goal, making the ball travel further. The Jets’ kicker was present and obviously aware of the activity, but no action was taken against him. The league’s Competitive Integrity Policy states that the fine for a first offense for equipment tampering is $5,512. But since Mr. Brady did not tamper with the equipment and there is no real evidence that he was even aware that it had been done, even that fine would be problematic in this situation.

A phrase in the NFL Game Operations Manual states that if the footballs are tampered with in this manner “the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach and other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000.” However, the Game Operations Manual is not provided to players, is not subject to collective bargaining, and is not a basis for disciplinary action against players, even if that disciplinary action was within the range outlined in the directive.

Even the case that the deflation happened at all is weak. The Wells report specifically says that the Colts’ balls were inflated to 0.5 PSI more than the Patriots before the game (both were within the legal range). When you account for the cold, we’re talking about 0.4 PSI that the Patriots may have let out. I think the Patriots did probably let some air out of the balls but 0.4 PSI is … not a lot to hang your hat on. And the case that Brady knew about this is even weaker. The supposed damning texts really aren’t that damning. It’s more of him complaining about the league over-inflating the balls.

The most damning evidence, to many, is that Brady destroyed his cell phone. But there’s actually no rule in the NFL against destroying evidence and players who have done so have not previously been disciplined. (In the link, James goes into many reasons that Brady may not have wanted the leak-prone NFL to have private information on his phone. I’m not completely sold, but I think he has a point).

What the should the league have done about this? Well, the rules specify a $25,000 fine on the team. Given the Patriots’ history and the importance of the game, I think they could have gotten their million dollar fine without a problem. But when Goodell decided he wanted Brady’s head on his wall, he elevated the tentative conclusions of the Wells report to certainties and then stumbled right into a briar patch of labor law.

The long and short of this, to quote the great sage Walter Sobchak: This is not ‘Nam. This is collective bargaining. There are rules. Goodell has gotten himself into trouble numerous times trying to exercise control of the league. In the media vacuum before the Super Bowl, this story became massively overhyped. He saw an opportunity to exercise his authority again and a judge slapped him down again. It pains me to say this but the judge was right.

(PS – As a Steelers fan who lives in outskirts of Steeler Country, I’d love to see Brady not under center tonight. But I can’t honestly say he shouldn’t be. Damn.)

(PPS – As I was working on this post, the Imperial March from the Empire Strikes Back came on my iTunes shuffle. How appropriate.)

Comments are closed.

  1. Seattle Outcast

    NE has a culture of cheating, the solution needs to be draconian.

    1) Force the sale of the team to an out of town buyer, who will rename the team

    2) Erase all of NE’s wins going back to 2000

    3) Ban any team from using the name “Patriots” forever

    4) Prohibit Boston from having an NFL franchise for 50 years

    5) Give Tom Brady a lifetime ban

    6) Invent new punishments that are just mean-spirited

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  2. richtaylor365

    Brady was not the one that called that boneheaded pass play last minute to seal the loss, put the blame where it belongs, on that dope Pete Carroll.

    OT, whats up with the math question before log in? All you public school graduates are gonna need a tutor just to post.

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  3. Santino

    Rich, I think you’re conflating the Super Bowl with Deflategate. The alleged cheating happened in the AFC Championship game.

    I love this time of year as football, baseball playoffs, and the beginning of basketball season all converge. I’m especially excited to watch meaningful September baseball for the first time since ’93.

    I’m also looking forward to seeing Serena complete the calendar slam.

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  4. richtaylor365

    Santino,  I know the difference between the SB and deflategate, my comment was not in response to the topic, although I think Goodell fills Trump clown shoes with aplomb and deserved the smack down he got. No, it was directed at those Brady haters who need a villain, unable to admit that Seattle f*cked up spectacularly. Besides, Green Bay was the better team anyway.

    I love this time of year

    Ditto. Although I like college football a bit more (as a Ohio State hater, I am in a bit of a quandary) there is plenty going on sports wise. Oregon has a big test this week, and I’m really jazzed about Cal doing well, yeah, a PAC 12 fan.



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  5. Hal_10000 *

    Ditto. Although I like college football a bit more (as a Ohio State hater, I am in a bit of a quandary) there is plenty going on sports wise. Oregon has a big test this week, and I’m really jazzed about Cal doing well, yeah, a PAC 12 fan.

    I’ll third that.  My Braves are toast, but MLB is still exciting with Toronto, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Kansas City in the mix.  And I love having football back. My Dawgs are looking good and I think last year showed we’re back to having a lot of parity between the big conference (Big 10, Pac 12 and SEC). This is absolutely the best time of year to be a sports fan.

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  6. Seattle Outcast

    As someone that lives in Seattle, I can tell you that nobody blames anybody but Pete Carrol for the boneheaded play that cost the game.  I don’t know ANYONE that didn’t expect Lynch to run the ball in for the win.


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  7. Seattle Outcast

    And last night the Patriots were once again fucking with the communications system of the opposing team.  They can’t help themselves but to cheat.

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  8. richtaylor365

    And last night the Patriots were once again fucking with the communications system of the opposing team. 

    The NFL controls the headsets, it is their screw up;

    NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in a statement late Friday afternoon that the audio interference was “entirely attributable to an electrical issue made worse by the inclement weather.”

    “It involved no manipulation by any individual,” he said. “The Patriots had nothing to do with it.”

    Rich, how good is Roger playing?

    It is inexplicable. His form, how cleanly he is hitting the ball, better than ever. Novac could bring his best game to the finals, and still lose, it oughta be fun.

    I’m watching Michigan beat up on Arizona State. I hope Harbaugh does well this year. The best game of the day is Oregon/Mich. St.

    CM, when are we gonna see your entry for the New Zealand flag contest?

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  9. Santino

    Alright Rich, you’ve certainly conflated Arizona with Oregon tonight. Stategate! Definitely satisfying wins by Michigan schools over the state of Oregon tonight.

    I’ve always enjoyed Federer’s finesse game over the power game of Nadal and somewhat Djokovic. Not sure if it’s fair to say Federer is going through a Renaissance, bit it’s a joy to see him playing at this level.

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  10. CM

    So hope Roger can do it.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what Hayne can do for the 49ers against the Vikings. What a story that is (as an NRL fan).
    My flag entry was not accepted as it was considered obscene. I’ll find a way to link to it.

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