In the past, we’ve run some Throwback Thursday posts. We missed it by a day this week, so we’re going with Flashback Friday. Please forgive us.
We’re in day three of the fallout from the release of the Wells report, and boy is it getting sticky.READ MORE: Boston Firefighters Save 90-Year-Old Woman From Brighton Apartment Building Fire
Voices in the national media continue to try to one-up each other with their calls for punishments for the Patriots. Though the most reasonable folks would expect at worst a one- or two-game suspension for Tom Brady a fine/slap on the wrist at the very least, that has not stopped the Skip Bayless Culture from losing its collective mind. Some want Brady banned for a year, or boxed out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, or stripped of his Super Bowl MVP, or sent to Alcatraz for the remainder of his living days. Others wants more, calling for Bill Belichick to sit out for the year along with Brady, or the Super Bowl win to be vacated.
They want unprecedented punishment handed out for a rule violation that has never been enforced in the history of the NFL.
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
Much of this national hysteria, without question, centers on two facts. One, we’re talking about Tom Brady. Two, we’re talking about the New England Patriots.
It’s the most successful quarterback of all time and the most successful franchise for the past 15 years. People are sick of seeing them win, and so they are desperate to tear them down any way possible. It’s human nature, and it’s not an unfamiliar feeling to Bostonians. How did people around here feel about the New York Yankees in 2000?
For context, think of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. I can tell you that I have no problem with Richard Sherman. But the man beat a positive PED test. He failed a test, and he beat it on a technicality. That technicality was that the collection cup on his urine sample broke, so the collector placed a second cup underneath it to stop the leaking. That violated protocol, so he avoided suspension, but it didn’t change the fact that his urine tested positive. Sherman became the third Seahawks player to test positive.
Yet … there was no national outrage — and that’s for a guy who’s a bit of a lightning rod for debates, and for a guy who one year later made the clinching play in the NFC Championship Game to help the Seahawks win a Super Bowl. People either ignored his positive test completely or moved on very quickly.
Go outside today and ask someone on the street if Sherman has ever failed a PED test, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with an informed answer.
Now, go and ask a stranger about Tom Brady, and they’ll say he’s guilty of cheating. And that’s despite the Wells report only concluding that “it is more probable than not” that Brady “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”
That’s hardly damning. But with the Wells report, those calling for harsh punishments are harping on two main points:
1. The Patriots did not make Jim McNally available for a follow-up interview when Wells’ team requested.
2. Tom Brady did not turn his phone over to investigators.
On the McNally point, those who are outraged are ignoring this comment from Robert Kraft (emphasis mine):
“I was offended by the comments made in the Wells Report in reference to not making an individual available for a follow-up interview. What the report fails to mention is that he had already been interviewed four times and we felt the fifth request for access was excessive for a part-time game day employee who has a full-time job with another employer.”
You’d think Ted Wells might have wanted to include that detail in his million-page report. Alas, it didn’t fit with the message he wanted to portray.
(As an aside, how many kicks at the can are you supposed to get as an investigative team? You want to interview the officials’ locker room attendant for a fifth time? Maybe you should just be better at investigating.)
On the second point, people assume Brady’s refusal to give up his phone is an admission of guilt. This really comes down to however you want to portray it.
You could make a reasonable case that Brady — a relatively private man for someone who’s one of the most famous athletes on Earth and is married to the most famous supermodel on the planet — had no obligation to relinquish his privacy over an investigation into the air pressure inside footballs. This was not an FBI investigation into a government-sponsored act of war. This was the investigation into PSI in footballs. “No, you can’t have my phone, you psychopaths,” is a perfectly normal response. I’d probably say that myself. I don’t need the world reading my text messages.
At the same time, you could use Brady’s refusal to give up the phone to say that he’s definitely hiding something. If he had no damning evidence on that phone, why wouldn’t he just give it up?
It’s really up to you how you want to perceive that.READ MORE: December Weather Preview: Could Boston Have A White Christmas?
However, consider this one.
Loyal Sports Hub listener “Mike From Attleboro” spent much of Thursday night on a Twitter crusade, and it was a good one. He shared this story from 2012, which detailed an incident where the Chargers were accused of using towels covered in Stickum during a game. (Stickum, if you don’t know, is a sticky substance that when rubbed on receivers’ hands or gloves can help them catch footballs. Jerry Rice loved the stuff.)
When asked by NFL officials to hand over the towels, Chargers sideline employees refused.
Seems like the Chargers were pretty guilty of cheating there, huh? And it seems like they were unwilling to hand over the evidence of their obvious cheating, right?
So the NFL should have thrown the book at them, don’t you think, all of you people in the Skip Bayless Culture? Ban Philip Rivers for a year, because he messed with the integrity of the game. Isn’t that how it goes?
Yeah, well … no.
The NFL investigated the matter for a solid three weeks and decided to hit the Chargers with a whopping $20,000 fine.
And that was it.
“The NFL has determined that the club did not violate a competitive rule by use of the towel,” the official statement from the league read. “As a result of the failure of club staff to follow the directive of a game official to immediately surrender the towels when directed to do so, and to attempt to conceal the towels, the Chargers have been fined $20,000.”
Whoa, nelly. Time to put an asterisk on all seven of those big Chargers wins in 2012, and it’s probably fair to take all of Rivers’ accomplishments in 2013 and expunge them from the record books. We can’t have anyone who messed with the integrity of the game to have any mark on history.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal’s digest of the situation sounds like it could be applied to the Patriots today.
“The whole story is a little odd,” Rosenthal wrote. “It technically wasn’t against the rules to use the towels, but it’s no longer going to be allowed. The Chargers didn’t gain an advantage, but they were fined anyway.”
The NFL concluded that the Chargers didn’t break any rule. If you want to get technical, the Patriots didn’t break a rule, either. There’s no rule that says you can’t deflate footballs; there is merely a rule saying the footballs must be in the 12.5-13.5 PSI range and that the referee must supervise them before the game. That’s a rule that the NFL referees have broken themselves (as recently as the Week 7 Patriots-Jets game this year) without being punished.
Of course, to make that point, you’d have to be a bit ridiculous and you’d have to really bend over backwards to try to excuse the Patriots, which is something the NFL doesn’t want to do. The league did it for the Chargers in 2012, though, and didn’t feel the need to launch a 100-day investigation.
It’s interesting, and it’s reminiscent of the drastically different treatment of “Spygate” allegations from 2006 to 2007, which you might remember:
And it’s a reminder of a point made yesterday: You can take from the Wells report whatever you want. For most people, that’s simple: The Patriots and Tom Brady cheat to win.
They win more than every other team, so that’s just the standard that seems to apply in New England more than anywhere else.
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