Tag Archives: Roger Goodell

Pats Fans, Don’t Worry. I Figured Out Our Defense.

Look at this man. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

Look at this man. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

 

As a lifelong Patriots fan, I feel that having a basic understanding of what has become known as “deflategate” is sort of my duty, even though any attempt by Roger Goodell or the NFL to investigate or adjudicate anything is almost categorically doomed from the start, especially something as silly and inconsequential as whether footballs were slightly deflated. I felt that, like Spygate, this was an inconsequential bit of reckless competitive exuberance, a violation that was made horrible not from the advantage it gave the perpetrators but for the ammunition it gave their detractors. We are now talking about Tom Brady’s Legacy like it’s a stock. How will this affect his legacy? Do you expect to see his legacy dip when the market opens tomorrow? Please. Four Super Bowls are immune to market fluctuations.

All that being said, the Wells report seems to be a serious investigation, so let’s take it seriously. Before we do, let’s establish what we already know.

  1. The balls the Patriots used in the AFC championship were under inflated at halftime, a violation of league rules. The Colts’ balls were not, which would seem to rule out environmental factors as the cause of said under-inflation.
  2. Each team is responsible for providing their own game balls, thanks to a 2006 rule change that Tom Brady was instrumental in bringing about.
  3. The pressure of the balls were measured before the game by officials and were deemed legal.
  4. Tom Brady likes his balls at the low end of the pressure spectrum.
  5. Tom Brady at the time said publicly that he didn’t know anything about why the balls were underinflated. So did Bill Belichick (although Belichick sort of weirdly deflected all questions to Brady).
  6. Roger Goodell has monumentally fucked up every investigation he’s been a part of.
  7. Both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are infallible.
  8. Indianapolis is super annoying, hates gay people, and stole Baltimore’s team.
  9. Science is still out on how air pressure works.

Proceeding from those unassailable presuppositions, let’s examine the Wells report and figure out how to serve justice based on its contents.

The Wells report reaches the conclusion, which it states near the beginning of the text (talk about starting with a conclusion and working backwards!) that:

“It is more probably than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

First of all, let’s dissect some of the legalese here. “More probable than not” is a sort of sloppy and unscientific way of saying “we have zero proof of this.” “More probable than not” would never get you a conviction in a court of law, and anybody who thinks that Roger Goodell has the legal authority to suspend someone and take away millions of dollars in pay based on “more probable than not” is out of their fucking minds. Will he try it? Maybe, he sort of has to if he wants to keep this “defender of the shield” nonsense going. After attacking the livelihoods of so many (mostly black) players with impunity, it would hurt his credibility to turn a blind eye to a supposed infraction from a white player who just so happens to be the (beautiful) face of football. It would, anyway, if Goodell had any credibility left to hurt.

The “evidence” that implicates Brady is almost exclusively limited to the texts between McNally and Jastremski. Those texts seem to indicate that Tom was pressuring McNally to keep the balls deflated and that he was giving McNally sporting goods in exchange for his off-the-books secondary job as Tom Brady’s personal ball handler (you would think that job would be its own compensation, but alas, we live in crass times).

McNally seems generally pissed at Brady. “Fuck tom” he texts to Jastremski (the report doesn’t indicate whether he was immediately struck by lightning after this was sent). In his anger at Brady for being a professional and asking him to prepare the balls according to the preferences of a four time Super Bowl champion, he seems to threaten that he will over inflate the balls, promising “watermelons,” “rugby balls” and “balloons” as retaliation.

What is clear from the text exchanges between McNally, Jastremski and Brady himself is that Brady was very particular about how he liked his balls. We know he liked them with less pressure, which is why McNally is always threatening to over inflate them and why Jastremski calls him a “Spaz” for making the same joke/threat for what we have to assume is a really annoying number of times. What there is no evidence of, however, is that Tom asked either of them to do anything illegal or against the rules. It does not take any sort of leap of faith to read the shit that Tom was giving McNally about ball pressure as a desire to keep the balls at the lowest legal point of pressure. Tom could have been giving him shoes and signed jerseys specifically for that reason, because Tom knew it was outside of the scope of McNally’s normal responsibilities and because the Patriots wouldn’t put “Tom Brady’s personal ball handler” as a payroll expense on the budget.

The Wells report tries to use one particular exchange as evidence that McNally knew he was doing something illegal and was at least jokingly threatening to go to the media with information. He texted Jestermski “jimmy needs some kicks…lets make a deal…come on help the deflator” followed by “Chill buddy im just fuckin with you ….im not going to espn……yet.” This exchange could just as easily be read as a negotiation: the employee (McNally) is trying to negotiate a better perks package at his job by threatening to take an offer of employment from ESPN. Did the Wells report people think about asking if McNally had ever applied to ESPN? Of course not.

The AFC championship game is one of the most high pressure games of the year. Everyone in the organization feels that pressure to be perfect, from Tom Brady all the way down to one James McNally. Jim McNally’s job was to deliver the balls, but maybe he was worried that the balls were not as Tom liked. Even though he wasn’t supposed to, maybe he deflated them a bit, not to push them under the legal limit, but to ensure they weren’t overinflated. After all, we know that Jastremski texted McNally that “I checked some of the balls this morn… The refs fucked us…a few of then [sic] were almost at 16.” Was it possible that McNally saw how overinflated the game balls were, and, knowing that he would be the one to hear about it if Brady was displeased with the ball pressure, decided to deflate the balls to a lower legal amount? Maybe he went too far, but that is his fault, not Brady’s.

The Wells report also makes a big deal out of the fact that Brady had many phone calls and even a meeting with Jastremski after the story broke following the AFC championship game, and uses this as some sort of evidence to implicate Tom, which is totally unfair. If Brady knew he had been pressuring Jastremski to keep the balls inflated to the lowest legal limit, wouldn’t he want to talk to him after the controversy erupted and the sky darkened under a cloud of fiery hot takes? Wouldn’t he want to get to the bottom of it? He’s a good employer, and, caring about his employee, wanted to shield him from a media shitstorm, so of course the “timing and frequency of telephone communications” was related to the scandal. That’s why he gripped the podium in terror and lied when he was asked about his ball preference: because he was trying to keep his guys out of trouble. He’s loyal to his people, maybe loyal to a fault, which is why when the NFL asked him about McNally, he pretended to not even know who he was out of loyalty. We should all be so lucky to have friends like Tom Brady, who forget we exist when times get tough.

So what, then, should happen next? What should Roger Goodell do, besides take his millions and retire to some island where he can suspend human being for sport so we never have to await his misguided judgement on situations like this ever again?

There is only one rational answer: he should make Jim McNally apologize for swearing at Tom behind his back via text. The NFL really needs to crack down on that kind of thing.

 

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It’s hard to police violence when you’re profiting from it

In the past few weeks, the NFL has revised both its domestic violence and its banned substances policy, by, among other changes, increasing punishments for the former and decreasing them for the latter. There were significant problems with how the NFL handled each type of infraction, and there still are despite the new policies (see Hardy, Greg), but in general things are at least more aligned with how the larger society views the crimes in proportion to each other. Gone is the radically backwards belief formerly codified in the NFL bylaws that smoking pot is a worse crime than beating a woman.

This man married a Fox News anchor.

This man married a Fox News anchor.

The fact that it took two separate videos surrounding the Ray Rice incident to make this judicial inequity clear to both the NFL and their fans is unfortunate, sort of disgraceful, and a pretty clear indication that the NFL is reactive, instead of active, in its policies.

(It also made clear that the NFL and Roger Goodell don’t understand the nature of causation, i.e., what has to happen in an elevator ride to have it end with a man dragging an unconscious woman out of it, or what is inevitable when there is a second tape of the incident floating around and the staff at the place that has the video, which is worth lots of money, are getting laid off, or what happens when you leave reporters out to dry, or what happens when you constantly lie to the public and use incompetence as an excuse for moral failings. It ultimately made it clear to a great many people that Roger Goodell should be removed from his duties as Commissioner.)

What no one is really asking, however, is how did the NFL’s punishments for most crimes/infractions, including the “gates” (bounty and spy), drunk driving, banned substances, and performance enhancing drugs, become so thoroughly enforced while domestic violence had no such punishment prescribed or implemented until recently? I think a pretty simple explanation is that the NFL isn’t a law enforcement entity (although that seems to change depending on Roger Goodell’s mood), and that crimes committed off the field, or have no direct impact on the game itself, should be handled by the law, which 99% of the time doesn’t give people charged with crimes like Ray Rice committed the deal that Ray Rice got.

One could argue that the NFL can and should let crimes committed off the field be handled by law enforcement authorities, and that only in the case of direct impact to the game, or its integrity, should the NFL be suspending people. The NFL’s earliest suspensions were all for gambling or fixing games, which makes sense, given that those are crimes that mean far different things to law enforcement than they do to the NFL, since gambling or fixing games would destroy the league’s validity.

According to Fivethirtyeight.com and my counting of the suspensions they compiled, there were six suspensions by the league office between the formation of the NFL in 1920 and when the league began drug testing in 1987. There were an additional 34 suspensions from 2000 to the start of the 2006 season when Roger Goodell replaced Paul Tagliabue as commissioner. Of those 34 suspensions, twenty were for PEDs, seven were for substance abuse, and the remaining seven were for personal conduct violations and in-game incidents. This makes sense, as PED use poses a threat to the integrity of the sport, much as gambling did in a previous era. Since Goodell took over in 2006, there have been, by my count, 192 suspensions (!). Now there could be a lot of reasons for this, one is more sophisticated drug testing, one is the fact that players are using more PEDs, and another might be that with more money than ever, the players are just out of control. Or maybe nothing has changed, and Goodell is simply reacting to the fact that crimes that used to be easily forgotten now quickly grab national headlines due to the new media landscape, which has forced him to react to just about everything.

Roger Goodell has made himself the league’s enforcer and protector of the shield, and in doing so has put himself in a position to be questioned for his punishments, or lack thereof. Before he started with his crusade to clean up the game, nobody would consider it his job to create and implement domestic violence policies, and nobody would have started evaluating how ad-hoc and inconsistent his system of justice was. But Roger Goodell bullrushed his way into the land of behavior regulation (the newest example being the type of “inappropriate language” penalty that Colin Kaepernick was hit with on Sunday), and the league didn’t seem to stop and consider that fact that an asserted right to penalize anybody for anything means that systems of justice have to be established. Once the precedent has been set that all behavior is punishable by the league, omissions or weak penalties for certain acts are now unforgivable. There is no longer an excuse to make that any crime is outside of the jurisdiction of the NFL.

Of course they were going to miss some sort of infraction, and of course it was domestic violence, which is no surprise because the NFL is a man’s league, a man’s league predicated on violence. (Breast Cancer Awareness month, the NFL’s transparently cynical PR push to remind it’s viewers of a disease everybody is well aware of, is going to be particularly awkward this year).

Maybe the crime here isn’t that the NFL has adjudicated poorly, maybe the problem is that a sports league that profits off violence and broken brains thinks it can adjudicate behavior at all. And when it does, is it any surprise that its judgment about the relative severity of crimes isn’t going to be in alignment with the rest of society’s, which outside of a few isolated areas, discourages violence and has more or less accepted marijuana use?

The NFL treats its players, who have the shortest shelf life of any professional athlete and who must sacrifice their individuality more than any major team sport participant, as automatons whose function is violence. These can be replaced when their CPUs breaks down, which they most likely will, because there are no guaranteed contracts. If you pay people money to commit violence in a regimented, team first environment, then anything that asserts or displays individuality, smoking pot, taking a public political stance, non-normative sexual orientation, are all distractions. They create individuation that disrupts the uniformity of team. In the business of violence, violence committed off the field or misdirected is unwanted, sure, but it’s not a fundamental rejection of the NFL’s programming. It’s a slight malfunction. It’s the kind of aggressive play that results in a personal foul penalty, the kind coaches can live with because they’d rather have their players living on the edge of chaos then be afraid to approach it.

I’m not saying this is a conscious decision by the NFL, or that the owners, coaches, players, or staff of the NFL don’t sincerely care about stopping violence against women. And clearly the NFL is trying to figure out just what amount of violence is appropriate, and how the game can be made safer. But like any organization, the more power the NFL gives itself, the more power it craves. The more the NFL decides that its job is to police personal conduct, they more they are going to be faced with their own contradictions. This is made worse by the fact that up until recently, Roger Goodell was the source of appeal for Roger Goodell’s decisions.

The NFL screwed up the Ray Rice incident badly. But what the incident made clear is that the NFL under Roger Goodell has created a haphazard system of justice that lays in the hands of one man, and operates according to a set of values that is out of touch with the values of its audience. It was only a matter of time before a Ray Rice came along to show us that.

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