By Jack Crawford, aka “Ravenous128”
As most of the football faithful know, after four head-scratching months, the NFL’s lead hatchet men finally took punitive action against the New England Patriots and their embattled quarterback, Tom Brady. The last week has been a marvel of modern journalism, as analysts, bloggers, and reporters of all descriptions have offered their opinions.
Here’s one more.
I’ll be the first to say, before the entire state of Massachusetts comes down upon my head, that I haven’t read the Wells report in its entirety. I glanced at it, skipped to the text messages that were supposedly the most damning components of it, and put it down. I waited patiently for the ruling from the league office, fully expecting the commissioner (who, lest we be reminded, is roundly bashed in this space) to soft-pedal any degree of real punishment in favor of the Patriots and white-collared, supposedly benevolent and worldly owner Robert “Bob” Kraft, who also bears the reputation of being one of the commissioner’s closest friends and allies within the NFL ranks.
The “punishment” (two draft picks, a million bucks, and a four-game suspension for Brady) was handed down in surprisingly short order, considering that the league deliberated over the Wells report for less than a week before acting. Cynics assumed the league would stretch any consequences out until training camp in deference to the defending Super Bowl champions and their MVP. When the refuse of the punishment “bomb” finally came to rest, most fans and onlookers were caught on either side of a deepening chasm – those that believed the punishment was, at minimum, justified and perhaps warranted further action, and…Patriots fans.
Patriots fans who have supported their team with resilience and fervor. Patriots fans who have searched for and somehow managed to unearth “evidence” that contradicts the fabric of the Patriots’ last cheating infraction, more commonly known as “Spygate” (never mind that they still deny any wrongdoing; the league, in their estimation, was wrong to punish them then and now). Patriots fans who still cannot fathom how the latest ruling, released unceremoniously via an Adam Schefter tweet, could possibly fit the crime. After all, the Wells report doesn’t specifically target anyone, but it certainly provided enough inferences and implications of wrongdoing to enable Troy Vincent, the current NFL executive vice president of football operations, to construct a case and mete out discipline for Brady and the Patriots.
But yet, the fans, largely taking their cues from Kraft and Don Yee (Brady’s agent), have resorted to concocting conspiracies, citing jealousy and “hate” for their franchise as the primary reasons for their current plight. Or the issue is simply rationalized thusly: “He was deflating footballs. It’s not like he killed somebody!”
Insert Aaron Hernandez joke here.
But really, Patriots fans? This is what qualifies as a reason for a lesser punishment?
Let’s review: Spygate. Throngs of deniers or not, the Patriots, and more specifically, head coach Bill Belichick, deliberately defied a league order regarding filming of other teams. While the particulars are somewhat in doubt due to a mysterious lack of evidence (is that trash I smell burning?), the team – and Belichick – accepted their penalties, which were unprecedented – Belichick was fined $500,000 (the maximum allowed and the largest fine imposed on a coach in league history); the Patriots were fined $250,000 and docked their first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. The validity of the subsequent flap with the Rams six months later notwithstanding, the Patriots dutifully “took their medicine”, and while they were subject to league-wide scrutiny, the allegations of cheating eventually settled, even among the most ardent online trolls.
And now… this.
I won’t bother to quote former president George W. Bush, but suffice it to say, the league offices felt understandably chagrined (fooled, even) after the Wells report was reviewed, having to discipline a franchise that had previously been held up as a model of behavior, but had already issued an admission of guilt for previous wrongdoing.
They cheated twice (that we know of). And were caught! Twice!
It doesn’t matter what they were doing, you numbskulls. Deflated footballs really, really aren’t the issue here. Blatant and repeated circumvention of the rules is.
“Every team is doing something illegal.” – Patriots fans. You know what? They probably are. Your team was effectively snared, and whether it was an act of stupidity, malice, cruelty, or conspiracy that exposed it makes no difference at all. Bear in mind that other teams have been caught manipulating footballs; most recently the Minnesota Vikings, who were filmed heating footballs on the sidelines (to get more travel out of them? Where’s Bill Belichick when you need a scientific explanation?) The Vikings received a warning from the league office, because they had no prior infractions of this (or any) sort, and they admitted their wrongdoing.
“Where’s the proof?” Tom Brady denied everything when the allegations were first made public. He’s still denying it, despite the dubious track record of his own organization in the honesty department. It seems rather amazing that Brady warrants such a stringent defense from his fans, given that he “probably” had direct knowledge of wrongdoing; even the limited amount of texts I reviewed left little doubt of this, unless they’re viewed through an obtuse, Patriots-biased eye.
My old friend, commissioner Roger Goodell, is by no means in the clear here, as his bumbling, ham-handed review and implementation of fines and punishments has resulted in hefty disdain for any ruling coming from the league offices, especially disciplinary action. Goodell’s handling of the matter was seen as a potential conflict of interest from the very start, given his close association with Kraft and his gross mishandling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases last fall. Goodell, having extracted himself through his latest system of fines and punishments from the business of determining and announcing penalties, has effectively been replaced by Vincent, who has unilateral authority to levy fines, dock draft picks, and issue suspensions. Underneath it all, sadly, the stench of Goodell is still evident, as there is no correlation between the punishments the Patriots received and the “Bountygate” punishments the New Orleans Saints endured a few years ago, which resulted in multiple suspensions of up to a year. So much for consistency.
And the Patriots (and yes, even their fans) should be happy about that. They will see their star quarterback play at least twelve games this season. They will survive the loss of draft picks, because they’ve proven to be adept at maximizing their draft assets. The financial hit, in the exorbitant landscape of the NFL, is negligible. The Patriots will, more than likely, ascend to another divisional crown and will still reign among the NFL’s elite, so I suppose they will take some comfort in that. And yet, they will never accept that it could have been – should have been – worse.
So, Patriots fans, what now? Is it really worth rehashing your no-win situation repeatedly in the press and elsewhere? The ever-strident court of public opinion has already hanged your team, partially because they’re “hated”, but also because they effectively thumbed their noses at the rulebook in very public fashion…for a second time. I’m not telling you who deserves your rooting interest and loyalty – that’s your decision and ultimately your consequences to bear, even in supporting a team that has been deemed dishonest by every other fan base in the NFL.
But could you at least show a little common sense about it?