By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston


BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL let the DeflateGate saga carry through the weekend, even dropping a juicy morsel of information/gossip late Friday afternoon for the world to feast on. None of this is an accident.

It’s clear beyond a reasonable doubt — or, I should say, “it’s more probable than not” — that above all else, the NFL lives for the soap opera. The folks who run the league know that the NFL is much, much bigger than any one player, owner or franchise. The NFL is a juggernaut, and while many have wondered how the league benefits by painting the Super Bowl MVP as “Mr. Cheat,” the reality is simple.

The league loves the drama.

No matter what the result of this ridiculous “DeflateGate” situation may be, the fact remains that:

A) We are all talking about the NFL in early May, when the NHL’s and NBA’s playoffs are cranked up and the MLB season is in full swing. Yet every sports radio show around the country is dedicated to the NFL. Phone lines are jammed. The topic dominates national conversation, generates countless headlines, and has yet again made the jump into the news networks. The NFL is very, very happy about this. (Plus, the league knows that air pressure in footballs is not actually cheating, so the level of taint they’re throwing on the 2014 Patriots is just enough to make this a major story, but small enough to not actually affect the integrity of the game that everybody is so worried about.)

B) The cycle can live even longer. The NFL can issue a suspension to Brady, and Brady can then appeal it. That appeal will be heard, and then Brady can have his suspension taken away by an actual independent party. That means for the NFL’s season opener on that Thursday night at Gillette, Tom Brady will be in uniform as the Patriots raise a banner. People won’t have any choice but to watch. Ratings records will be shattered. Win.

Whether Tom Brady comes out of this thing smelling like roses or wearing a proverbial orange jumpsuit, the folks running the league don’t really care.

They just want to keep you tuned in and waiting for more. And they’re pretty damn good at it.

With that established, let’s tackle the one focal point that seems to be driving the most people to believe that Tom Brady is guilty as sin: The Great Cell Phone Refusal Of 2015.

This is the point of contention that many have said paints Brady as hiding evidence. Some people have even said “You know what? Forget the fact that there is no damning evidence on Brady. He ought to be suspended solely because he didn’t give his phone to Ted Wells’ investigation team.”

OK, well “people” in this instance refers to Peter King, who admittedly might be on his own planet with this one. But here’s what he wrote: “I’d give Brady one game, two tops, for failing to turn over his cell phone and the evidence within. This is too important to rely on half-truths and maybes. Goodell, who I believe will come down harshly, can’t listen to the noise. He has to listen to the truth, and the proof.”

This is, in a word, hysterical. I’d suspend this man from playing in the NFL because he didn’t give up his cell phone. Half-truths and maybes are not enough to NOT suspend him, but half-truths and maybes are enough TO suspend him. Yes, this makes sense.

(King’s assertion came after he proved fairly thoroughly that the NFL’s evidence was flimsy at best. Classic.)

King is just the one example I use here, but there are hundreds of voices in the media making this same point.

So, does Brady’s refusal to hand over his cell phone to investigators make him look guilty? Let’s address that critical question.

1. Tom Brady is one of the most prominent members of the players’ union.

This is an important fact because despite Roger Goodell’s illusion, the NFL has no real power in these sham investigations. That means they can’t subpoena anybody to testify or hand over evidence. Cooperation is entirely up to the people who are being accused.

Now, if you fail to cooperate, people (including the investigators) will assume you’re guilty. It’s quite the opposite of the way our criminal justice system works. So, Tom Brady, like the rest of the Patriots, cooperated. He sat with investigators for a full day and answered their questions.

But he did not hand his private phone over to Wells’ team, and for that, people are quick to assign blame. They’re forgetting the fact that Brady is one of the most famous athletes on the planet, and his wife is even more well-known around the globe. He’s been pasted onto the front page of the New York tabloids with juvenile jokes about “balls” dozens of times since January, and that’s without the world peeping his private text messages.

Some might still say, “Well, I’d give my phone over if I had nothing to hide.” But, well, the world doesn’t so much care what Bill from accounting texts to his buddies on a Thursday night. It’s a bit of a different situation for Tom Brady.

If you’re a person of Brady’s stature and you don’t have to expose your private message to the world, you just aren’t going to do it. For one, you don’t have to, but secondly, you’d be setting a precedent for your fellow union members that you must hand over personal, private information when requested.

2. The texts from Richie Incognito in the previous Ted Wells-run report were awful.

Richie Incognito is a relative nobody. He’s the type of guy you might see crushing fries and light beers at a Buffalo Wild Wings on a Tuesday afternoon. He handed his phone over because he was under attack for being a “bully” to another grown man, and his future employment prospects in the NFL depended on Wells clearing his name.

Here’s how Incognito was rewarded for his cooperation. (The texts were much too vulgar to publish unedited, so I’ll do my best to add some colorful [censored] words.)

“I’m going to shoot you and claim self defense … I’m white ur black I’ll walk”

“I got the worst [sexual favor] ever!”

“Don’t forget the cocaine too … No dude hookers u [homosexual slur] … Don’t blame ur gay tendancies on [name redacted] … Stop it.”

“U good dude? Did u get some chick pregnant? I’ll help u off her if that’s the case”

“They are massive and fake. I love fake [ones] … Is it wrong that I want to get wasted again and talk to babes … Ur black and I hate u”

“That’s the gayest [crap]  I’ve ever heard. U really are a [homosexual slur]”

“Ur a [P-word] … [P-word]…[P-word]… [P-word] U are no longer my road dog”

That’s just a sampling of the thousand or so text messages from Incognito to Jonathan Martin which were pasted on the Internet for all the world to see.

Granted, it is highly unlikely that Brady engages in text message conversations that are as ridiculous as Incognito’s. But the tabloids would have a field day with anything Brady said to anybody. And given the ridiculous number of leaks that were coming out of the league office at that time — including Jim McNally’s name and town of residence getting pasted all over ESPN.com in the midst of the investigation — there is nothing the NFL could have said to Brady to convince him that the private messages would actually be protected by the investigation team.

Brady’s a generally private guy, and again, this was an investigation into the PSI of footballs used in a football game. So he kept that phone in his pocket.

3. All of Brady’s communications with Jastremski also show up on Jastremski’s phone, which the Wells team examined.

This is the most obvious point that has seemingly been glossed over by everybody. If Brady texted or called Jastremski, the investigators could see that via Jastremski’s phone. And they did. So there’s no need for any of Goodell’s henchmen to snoop on Brady’s texts to Gisele or anybody else for the sake of an investigation into air pressure in footballs.

4. When Robert Mueller investigated the NFL for its cover-up mishandling of the Ray Rice elevator video … league executives only turned over their company-issued cell phones.

This was pointed out to me by an astute reader on Twitter, and it checks out. You’ll remember that last year, the NFL paid Robert Mueller to investigate the NFL, and Robert Mueller (surprise surprise) concluded that NFL hadn’t really done anything wrong.

In the course of that investigation, Mueller needed some evidence. Here’s an excerpt from Page 7 of the appendix of Mueller’s report:

“We identified the most logical persons to have received and viewed the in-elevator video. We imaged each of their devices — their computers, as well as their League mobile phones and tablets, if they had one. … In total, we imaged 51 computers, 42 mobile devices or tablets, and two external storage devices.”

Page 47 of that report also makes the distinction that the investigation examined “League” mobile phones and devices. That excludes personal phones and devices.

Now, that same Twitter user noted that Tom Brady’s cell phone, as listed in the Wells report, had a 917 area code, which would mean it was put into service in New York City.

An excerpt from Page 102 of the Wells report.

An excerpt from Page 102 of the Wells report.

An excerpt from Page 104 of the Wells report.

An excerpt from Page 104 of the Wells report.

New York City, as you might be aware, is not in Foxborough, Massachusetts. So the phone in question was more likely than not a personal phone of Brady.

So, when the NFL is under investigation, its executives need not turn over personal cell phones. But when a player is under investigation, he must relinquish his own privacy to satisfy the demands of those same executives, or else he will be considered guilty for not cooperating.

If it sounds like a double standard, and if it sounds like guilt is being cast on Tom Brady despite an obvious lack of evidence, that’s because it’s exactly what’s taking place.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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