BOSTON (CBS) — On Friday evening, the NFL stated in its filing for Judge Richard Berman that it is “irrelevant” whether or not Ted Wells ran an independent investigation into the underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game.
This statement would perhaps be easier to swallow if Roger Goodell and the NFL hadn’t spent so much time and effort trying to jam the independence of this investigation down our throats for the past six-and-a-half months.
The full statement from the NFL read as follows:
“Finally, the NFLPA’s contention that Paul, Weiss was not an ‘independent’ investigator and that the Commissioner improperly delegated his fact-finding authority to Paul, Weiss is irrelevant. The debate about the independence of the investigation has no bearing on whether the NFLPA had an adequate opportunity to present evidence at the hearing, which is all the CBA and fundamental fairness require. Furthermore, Article 46 does not require an ‘independent’ investigation prior to the imposition of discipline, and indeed it is commonplace for NFL personnel other than the Commissioner to investigate the problematic conduct.”
Fair enough. It’s clear that with both sides so dug in, the battle in court will essentially be a fine nit-picking session of the CBA. Tom Brady’s side will carefully select its sections to pick apart, as will the NFL’s lawyers. It’ll be up to Judge Berman to see through the muck and rule what most closely follows the letter of the CBA.
Yet this argument from the NFL flies in the face of every single thing Roger Goodell and Ted Wells have been repeating over and over again since January.
From the NFL’s official announcement of the investigation:
“The investigation is being led jointly by NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul, Weiss. Mr. Wells and his firm bring additional expertise and a valuable independent perspective.”
From Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl press conference on Jan. 30:
“Ted Wells and our staff have been hard at work conducting a thorough and objective investigation. … I want to emphasize we have made no judgements on these points, and we will not compromise the investigation by engaging in speculation. When Ted Wells has completed his investigation and made his determination based on all relevant evidence, we will share his report publicly.”
(Note: In this statement, Goodell curiously omitted the major detail that Pash would be editing the report before it was shared publicly.)
“I think we have had people that have uncompromising integrity. Robert Mueller is an example of who – I think you asked me the same question last fall about a conflict of interest – their integrity is impeccable. Ted Wells’ integrity is impeccable. These are professionals that bring an outside expertise and an outside perspective, and their conclusions are drawn only by the evidence and only by the attempt to try and identify that truth.”
From Ted Wells’ conference call with reporters on May 12:
“I would like to start out by responding to criticisms by Mr. Brady’s agent, Don Yee, about my independence and his suggestions that the conclusions of the report were somehow influenced by persons in the league office who wanted to find wrongdoing by the Patriots and Mr. Brady. The conclusions of the report represent the independent opinion of me personally and my team. And those conclusions were not influenced in any way, shape or form by anyone at the league office. We made a fair and reasonable review of the evidence and we reached conclusions based on the preponderance of the evidence standard, which I was required to apply based on the league’s rules.”
(Note: It was not influenced in any way, shape or form by anyone at the league office … except for the NFL executive VP, who edited the report.)
“I think it is wrong to criticize my independence just because you disagree with my findings.”
“I think those attacks are out of bounds, unfair and just plain wrong.”
“I totally reject any suggestion that I was not independent or that the report in some way was slanted to reach a particular result. So I reject all of it.”
From Roger Goodell’s press conference at the owners’ meetings in San Francisco on May 20:
“First off, it was an independent investigation. It was done by Ted Wells. He drew a conclusion about whether there is a violation or not. He drew the facts and drew the investigation. I got the chance to read the report just shortly before you did so we’ve been very transparent on that side of it.”
(Note: Again, no mention of Pash editing the Wells report, and if not for the public release of the appeal hearing transcript, the world would never know this detail.)
“I think Ted Wells did address [areas where NFL employees and officials acted improperly] in his report. I think he addressed it. I asked him specifically when I engaged him to evaluate the league’s conduct to determine what we could have done differently. He was very clear in the report … . That is something that whenever we have an incident, we look at it and we see what we could have done differently, how can we improve and we’ll continue to do that.”
(Note: The Wells report made no mention of the false leaks from the NFL office about PSI measurements, the false information sent to the Patriots about PSI readings by senior VP of game ops Dave Gardi, the overinflation of Week 7 footballs by referee Bill Leavy, the decision to not switch to backup footballs by referee Walt Anderson, the head of officiating lying publicly about when he first learned of concerns over football deflation, and more.)
“Tom raised earlier issues of independence and we felt it was appropriate to do that in the case of the Patriots because we didn’t want anyone to believe there was any bias. We let somebody independently do that. The same thing’s true with Director Muller. There’s no way that I can do an investigation on myself, that would not be appropriate. So, when it’s appropriate to do it, to have that independence, we’re certainly going to do that.”
It’s that last statement, most of all, that rings hollow. This was Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, stating publicly that a star player in the league raised concerns about the scope and slant of an investigation. And so Goodell, in an effort to prove that he is a fair and reasonable ruler, agreed to bring in an independent firm. He uttered a variation of the term “independent” three times in that 78-word statement.
He assured the world that the investigation was not biased or influenced by the league in any way, carefully omitting the fact that Jeff Pash would be “wordsmithing” the final report.
It was very, very important for the NFL to create the illusion that Wells’ investigation was independent. Until now, when it’s suddenly “irrelevant.”
Of course, in writing that the debate is “irrelevant,” the league is not necessarily admitting that the investigation was not at all independent. The league is merely trying to state that the NFLPA’s argument on that point is void because players are not guaranteed to have independent investigations if they ever find themselves in hot water.
However, given how how intensely Goodell defended this investigation’s independence, given how fiercely he chided CNN’s Rachel Nichols for asking about perceived conflicts of interest in league-funded investigations, and given that the NFL would never have publicly come forth to explain Pash’s role in editing the final Wells report if not for the public release of the appeal hearing transcript, this is another example of the NFL being purposefully dishonest — and doing so many, many times over a six-month period.
It comes on the heels of Goodell being exposed — for the second time in the past calendar year — for purposefully lying about what a suspended player said behind closed doors. Again, this was another detail that we never would have known if not for Judge Berman’s order to unseal the documents.
None of this is to say that Brady’s side has been 100 percent truthful, straightforward or cooperative. Yet the league wields all the power in this showdown, and the commissioner has known that since the night of Jan. 18. And by releasing false information within hours of the game taking place, the league knew it could not only get the quarterback to squirm under hostile and stressful conditions but also pay an investigator millions of dollars under the guise of “independence” to clear itself of any wrongdoing.
At no point did the NFL ever have to conduct itself this way, and at no point did Roger Goodell ever have to assert such a disproportionate level of power for such a minor offense that was never actually proven to have been committed. It was atrocious behavior, through and through, and it continues through this day.
The NFL thought it could repeat the same message of “independence” and “uncompromising integrity” ad nauseam in public forums while acting in a completely different fashion in private. Now that everything’s coming out for all to see, it’s clear how deceitful the league has acted throughout the entire investigation and the subsequent handling of discipline.
To borrow Wells’ own language, the misrepresentation of the “independence” of the entire process has been out of bounds, unfair and just plain wrong.