Guest post from Mike Walsh.
Wondering when Roger Goodell will air the next episode in the league office’s embarrassing DeflateGate drama pales in comparison to wondering when the Chris Mortensen character will make another cameo, especially since he may have played the biggest role in this entire affair.
This stupid story has been going on for so long and has had so many aspects it might be easy to forget when it really exploded. The Pats beat the Colts on January 18th, and the first Bob Kravitz tweet was sent later that night. But it was Mortensen’s tweet on January 20th that made this thing blow up.
That tweet and that tweet alone took this from a minor story that could have went away very quickly and made it the lead story on national news broadcasts across the country. It convicted the Patriots in the court of public opinion before charges were even filed. It led to the woefully incompetent Wells Report, the loss of draft picks, the suspension of arguably the greatest player in league history, and it still may yet lead to a trial in federal court.
Of course, it was flat out wrong. Really wrong. Kind of embarrassingly wrong.
If that tweet had come from Bob Kravitz then maybe it doesn’t explode the way it did, but people trust(ed) Chris Mortensen. Football fans know that some guys, for good and bad, have lines into the NFL league offices. Adam Schefter, Peter King, Jay Glazer, and Mortensen are the guys that get news before everyone else, so when that report came from one of them it felt like a story that might have had no merit was already proven unquestionably true. Even if, in those innocent days, we knew nothing about psi and the Ideal Gas Law and football game day regulations it just sounded really bad. Two pounds of Psi? Well that probably can’t happen naturally, right?
I know as a Patriots fan I certainly felt sick about it. At least initially. The Brady and Belichick press conference didn’t help. Until the 2nd Belichick-Mona-Lisa-Vito follow-up press conference that Saturday that turned Patriots fans into the biggest collection of irrational soccer moms in history, it was, inexplicably, miserable to be a Pats fan. That extra week following the conference championship games should be the single best time to be a football fan. You are going to the Superbowl, you are still celebrating winning the AFC title game, everything is actually awesome. The Mortensen tweet destroyed it. No one is going to cry that Pats fans had a bad week leading up to their fourth Superbowl win, and that is fair, but it did suck at the time, and that first round draft pick is going to genuinely hurt the team for a long time.
On the morning of the Superbowl, February 1st, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported the following:
“Eleven of the 12 footballs used in the first half were judged by the officials to be under the minimum of 12.5 PSI, but just one was two pounds under. Many of them were just a few ticks under the minimum.”
The impact of that report was equivalent to the whispers of a convicted man being led out of court.
We know now that Rapoport got it right and Mortensen didn’t. We also know the league, for reasons that will never truly be known (though probably are as simple as gross incompetence by a commissioner that couldn’t run a toaster), never felt the need to correct the Mortensen report, and in fact gave the Patriots the wrong psi readings as well. Predictably, those actual facts haven’t really mattered. Just that first tweet from the 20th.
The instinct from Patriots fans has been to add Chris Mortensen to the ever-growing enemies list, but Mortensen doesn’t belong on it, at least not for that erroneous report. I absolutely trust that he not only believed the report was fully accurate, but that he had no reason not to trust it.
Note that he cited “leagues sources.” Mortensen had enough of a track record to believe that not only did he have multiple people in the league office telling him the same thing, or at least “confirming” the information, but that they were the type of people that would know have access to it. Now, high ranking league officials intentionally spreading fake information (and not correcting it) offers enough fodder for the Patriots, their fans, the league, and everything surrounding this abomination of a saga to fill a book, but this is about the guy who got it wrong.
People lied to Chris Mortensen. And more than once on this story. Two days later he tweeted this equally wrong information when asked if the Colts footballs were checked:
Wrong again. The sources that fed him these lies had most likely proven dependable in the past. Fine, it happens. That reflects on the clown show management of Roger Goodell a hell of a lot more than Chris Mortensen. (The league could have put out a correction within the hour of the under 2 pounds tweet and said that report was wrong and released the actual numbers, cutting the wires on that bomb before it ever detonated.) But that still leaves one glaring issue:
Where the hell has Chris Mortensen been since then?
I mean, I know he continues to work for ESPN and cover the league, but he has yet to comment on his own, factually wrong, publicly debunked report. Why? How can he expect his credibility to withstand getting wrong one of the most important reports of his life without even addressing it?
Hell, Peter King carries the league’s water like he is on the payroll, but when his reports about the league seeing the Ray Rice tape was publicly refuted he addressed it. He probably got the report right in the first place and decided to fall on his own sword to protect his beloved access to NFL headquarters, but at least he was willing to come out and say something. Self-preservation? Yeah, probably, but he deserves credit for not hiding like Mortensen has since King was willing to face the scrutiny.
How hard would it be to simply say you got it wrong, you had every reason to trust the sources, but they failed you, and you are going to try and be better in the future? Maybe even go a step further and question why or how they got it wrong, and why the league allowed it to float out there and fester. He wouldn’t have to go the full Simmons on Goodell and the NFL, but a little accountability seems in order when it comes to his own image as a trusted reporter.
A guy with even more credibility as an NFL reporter, Adam Schefter, somehow managed to experience both sides of this issue with this trumped up investigation. He reported that the Patriots suspended Jastremski and McNally at the league’s behest. The league then publicly denied it (instantly, which was weird since……). My instinct was to still trust Schefter. Maybe he has reported some stories that turned out to be wrong, but nothing that stands out. When he reports something, you believe him; he has earned that reputation. Besides, the league had already proven it could not be trusted with the Mortensen report, and its own reports to the Patriots confirmed that. It was like asking if you trusted Schefter or the wolves in the sheep’s Jets jerseys working in New York.
Yet Schefter said nothing. Did he get it wrong? Or did he too want to protect his sources and contacts up in NFL HQ? Well, we still don’t know, but we do know that when he reported the NFL gave Brady’s camp only four hours to plead their case at the appeal, a report the league publicly denied (again, instantly, which is really weird since……), he clearly was not going to let two straight reports on this story be refuted by the league. He quickly tweeted out a picture of the letter the league had sent the Brady camp saying they had four hours. Schefter was right; the league was lying, again.
Where in the hell is Chris Mortensen. We are now up to seven months since that tweet, six and a half since Rapoport’s report refuting it, and two and a half months since the Wells Sham confirmed the inaccuracy of his tweet.
We can try to be moralistic vigilantes and demand that Mortensen denounce the league, out his sources, and demand transparency from the league, but we don’t have to be that naïve. Mortensen has made a nice career for himself, and if he starts outing sources that will be the last time he has one. This isn’t about that anyway.
This is about how a respected veteran reporter can remain silent on his own wrong report, even when that report set into motion the biggest story going in the league, involving the Superbowl champions and the greatest quarterback who ever lived. Getting something wrong is understandable, not standing up and accepting it isn’t.
Goodell, Kraft, Brady, Wells – those guys have been the leading men of this poorly written soap opera. But it’s the Chris Mortensen character I keep waiting to show up again. And each day he hasn’t just calls into question the kind of character he has.
You got it wrong Chris. Isn’t it time to make it right?
Email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him up on Twitter @burgermike