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Wells Report States Patriots Probably Deflated Balls

The Wells report was released today.

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The day has finally arrived.

After 103 days of waiting and speculation, the Wells report was released today to answer (sort of) all your deflategate questions! And while the report can’t state anything definitively, it does find that “it is more probable than not” that Jim McNally (Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (equipment assistant for the Patriots) deliberately released air from Patriot game balls after they were inspected. It also states that Tom Brady was probably at least generally aware this was happening. How much this matters to you most likely lies with your rooting interest, with a whole bunch of people not giving a hoot either way. The prevailing argument from the I-don’t-care-about-this crowd seems to be that the Indianapolis Colts were so thoroughly owned by the Patriots that this matter of deflated balls was inconsequential to the outcome. The Colts got crushed, so does it matter?

Yes, it does.

It’s easy to dismiss the advantage of taking the air out of footballs, especially in the AFC championship game, because of the lopsided results. Clearly (?) the Patriots didn’t need to gain any advantages against the outmatched Colts. I can’t see how this is the point. But what if the same process was used in the Patriots prior game against the Ravens? In the divisional round, the Pats were down by 14 to the Baltimore Ravens — twice! — and came back to win, thanks to three touchdown passes from an experienced NFL quarterback, Tom Brady, and a guy who plays wide receiver who threw a touchdown of his own. So let’s take a little trip down the speculation wormhole, shall we? What if …

What if the Patriots used under-inflated balls in their comeback win against the Ravens? It’s silly to think that if the findings of the Wells report are to be believed, that this game against the Colts was the first time the Patriots — excuse me, the locker room attendant — has employed this particular strategy. It’s more likely that the Patriots, er, locker room attendant have done this before. What if those balls aided Brady’s 33 of 50/367 yard night? You could argue that Tom Brady has consistently been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, so why would he need to do this? But what if he has always done this, has this always been a part of his success? Highly unlikely. It’s not a stretch to think that Tom Brady puts up those numbers against the Ravens either way. But what about Julian Edelman? Edelman is by all accounts a small guy in terms of NFL players. I don’t know how big his hands are, but what if that under-inflated football gives the former college quarterback the grip he needs to complete that pass? Without that touchdown pass, the Patriots don’t win that game, and don’t advance to the AFC championship game to face the Colts. Hmmm….

What if? What if we give the Patriots (um, the “locker room attendant”) the benefit of the doubt? It never occurred to them to cheat before, but damn that Ravens game was close, and it’s kinda cold out, and maybe we need a little advantage to secure this game … does that make it any better? The fact that they crushed the Colts doesn’t negate that they tried to give themselves a competitive advantage. I’m sure leading into the game, they had no idea how little it would matter.

Josh Gordon was suspended for an entire year for testing positive for marijuana — a drug that most would agree gives you no competitive advantage in football — and while its even being harmful is debatable, surely the harm he did was to himself and his own teammates. People were quick to condemn him; as someone with multiple violations of the NFL substance abuse policy, he was an easy target. Reactions to his suspension varied from his outrage at his poor decision-making and wasted talent to “who cares? It’s just weed.”  The reactions to deflategate have been about as varied. Reactions have been everywhere from “the Patriots cheated” to “who cares?” Moral outrage is personal, and fickle.

But here’s where it’s different. Josh Gordon didn’t CHEAT. It wasn’t performance enhancing drugs, it wasn’t cheating on the field. It was a bad decision, surely, but he wasn’t trying to find a competitive edge. Whoever is ultimately responsible for deflating those footballs was. That is blatant cheating and cannot be tolerated in the NFL. But what will happen to Tom Brady and the Patriots? Josh Gordon is a receiver for the Cleveland Browns. Tom Brady is a bonafide superstar and the darling of the National Football League. What punishment will he receive, if any? And what are the consequences for the Patriots? Is trying to cheat your way to a Super Bowl worse than smoking weed?  My guess is Tom Brady escapes relatively unscathed, but we will soon find out.

If we’ve learned anything about the NFL, it’s that its sense of moral outrage is as fickle as anybody’s, and that its punishments are as arbitrary.

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