The NFL has controlled the flow of information since the start of this whole Tom Brady football psi nightmare. Through their media leaks and through the Wells Investigation, the NFL has systematically manipulated matters to lead the public towards one conclusion: Tom Brady – perhaps the face of the league, the posterboy for what the NFL should want to represent, is a cheater.
In an attempt to rehabilitate the image of a Commissioner who had been under attack since the previous offseason. What better target than the team everyone already hates?
I’m convinced the seeds were planted the week before the AFC Championship Game, (Well, long before that, actually, but it really took off that week.) when, following the Patriots win over the Ravens in Divisional Round of the playoffs, Brady told the media that the Ravens and their coach John Harbaugh, needed to “read the rulebook.”
That set in motion a series of events which has developed into the biggest sports story of the year (decade?). A story which still has not been resolved, and is not likely to be fully resolved for some time to come.
A series of clandestine emails were traded between the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL Operations department. They accused the Patriots of using footballs below the regulation PSI. They cited balls taken from the Patriots win in Indianapolis earlier in the season. Footballs which would’ve been handled by the home team, mind you. They also made vague references to it being “well known” that the Patriots were using footballs that were not inflated to regulation. No specifics have ever come on that.
The events of the night of the AFC Championship game have been well-chronicled. But from that point on, the NFL had complete and utter control of the message being put out.
Instead after a little more than a day of collecting basic evidence and interviews, ESPN coincidentally (or not) ran with a bombshell report that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs were underinflated by more than two pounds per square inch and, conversely, none of the Indianapolis Colts’ measured as such.
It was damning.
It was also completely false.
None of the Patriots footballs were so deflated and only four Colts footballs were even measured, so that didn’t matter. Someone at Goodell’s office may or may not have leaked it – the league office appears to be the only entity at the time with the info. Even if it didn’t, the league, equipped with the truth, failed to either refute it or just pass the info onto the Patriots. The league even fed the Pats similarly frightening, and inaccurate, data.
Essentially, whoever leaked it to ESPN counted on the report being so big that the public would believe it no matter what came out later.
Did it ever. The NFL told ESPN and the Patriots a bold faced lie.
On purpose. Further, they went and told a second lie – that the Colts footballs were all over the legal limit the entire game.
Those lies were never corrected. When the Patriots were finally privately told the correct numbers, almost three months later, they were ordered not to disclose them to the public. The NFL was controlling the flow of information.
Ted Wells was appointed to lead over the investigation. Labeled “independent” but in reality a lawyer working for the NFL, (to the tune of $45 million over the last two years) Wells was tasked with creating a case against Tom Brady.
In the course of his “Investigation,” Wells attempted to set up Brady. He had gotten text transcripts from John Jastremski’s phone, so he had a complete record of what the two of them had said to each other over text.
But he still demanded Brady’s phone, or at least to look at it. No had no reason to do this. None. But by demanding the phone, Wells puts himself in a win-win situation. He accomplishes multiple things:
- If Brady hands over the phone, Wells and his team scour it to find something, anything, that Brady hadn’t previously disclosed which involves the case or interactions with Jastremski. Trust me, they would’ve found something they would’ve used, no matter how innocent in reality it was. (Brady lied and said he didn’t know McNally, but here he refers to a “bird!”) Then they would claim that Brady was hiding/covering up information and not cooperating.
- Brady doesn’t hand over this phone, and Wells can say again, that Brady did not cooperate.
By this point, Ted Wells was controlling all information, and he was not disclosing anything to the Patriots. The NFL had already burned the Patriots with the false PSI numbers,the team was wary of further leaks. Wells told the team he would not be investigating the leaks from the NFL, despite Roger Goodell saying at the outset that the league’s conduct would be in the scope of the investigation.
This is from a letter sent by Daniel Goldberg of the Patriots to Jeff Pash of the NFL on February 6th.
We learned last night from Ted that the issue of how League personnel handled the pursuit of the low psi issues, including whether there were inappropriate prejudgments and unfounded presumptions of wrongdoing, selective leaks of information and misinformation, failure to correct obviously misreported information, and the like, are not part of what the Paul Weiss firm has been asked to investigate. I understand that the League has opted to investigate those matters internally. Because of the significance of these issues, their obvious interrelationship to the matters being pursued by the Paul Weiss firm, and the benefits of having them investigated by individuals who are not employees of the League (particularly since they involve the conduct of high level League employees), the Patriots ask that the League add these issues to the matters that are being independently investigated. In our view, League personnel’s serious mishandling of this psi issue during and after the AFC Championship Game has caused the Patriots grievous harm. As a member club, we think this issue is no less serious than the related issues now in the hands of independent investigators and even more appropriate to be pursued by those who are not League employees, since they involve the conduct of other League employees.
Pash couldn’t have been more condescending and dismissive in his reply.
I know the Commissioner is as displeased by the media activity as you and others are. He has been as clear as possible on this point. To some extent, the media activity is inherent in Super Bowl week — having now been to 7 Super Bowls, the Patriots know better than any club the feeding frenzy that takes place around the game. I am somewhat encouraged that the media activity seems to have slowed down a bit, and I am hopeful that the investigation can now proceed in a calm, quiet, and professional way.
The Commissioner is …displeased. Wow. He’ll get right on that. And yes, the media activity around this sure did slow down. And things have been calm quiet and professional ever since. Right?
The NFL had no interest in investigating its own leaks. Why would they? It was all part of their campaign. They were controlling the message, and this was a big part of that. Ted Wells was at the head of it. He was controlling what the public saw, what the Patriots saw and what others involved in the process saw.
His eventual report, continued the message. By front-loading the report he was able to give the public the message that he wanted them to take away, knowing that the majority would read no further than that summary. It was like a lawyer giving his closing arguments at the beginning of the case, before the jury could hear all the testimony and evidence and decide for themselves. Wells was able to bury the evidence among mind-numbing legalese and footnotes.
When the Patriots punishment was announced, Robert Kraft at first protested. Then, after speaking with Goodell, he caved. While Kraft claimed he was doing it to “end the rhetoric” and do what was best for the 32, in reality all he did was make his organization appear more guilty, and essentially take sides against his quarterback and coach.
When the punishment came out, the NFL was very careful to ensure that some of the most powerful owners in the league (all of whom had a stake in the Patriots being punished and hamstrung) spoke out in support of Goodell and to say what a great job he was going (See yesterday’s post)
The NFL continued to control the message throughout the rest of the process. When Adam Schefter reported that the NFL had requested that the Patriots suspend McNally and Jastremski, Goodell himself refuted it the very next day.
When Schefter Tweeted during Brady’s appeals hearing that he would only be given four hours to state his case, within minutes NFL spokesman Greg Aiello refuted the statement. Schefter then produced an NFL letter to the Brady camp specifying the time limit they would be given.
Schefter reported following the hearing that “Brady came off as genuine, earnest and persuasive, addressing every issue raised in the league-sanctioned Wells report during Tuesday’s long meeting. One of the sources called it “an A-plus performance.”
Very quickly, another source surfaced which described Brady’s appearance as “not overly impressive” and “not entirely credible. “
More recently when word came out that the NFL and Brady might be discussing a settlement, an NFL source quickly amended the narrative to indicate that it was Brady’s camp which approached the NFL about a settlement, which of course leads some to make the leap that Brady is looking to settle because he knows he’s guilty. It’s making the rounds now that “NFL sources” believe Brady will accept a reduced suspension. This is simply another tactic by the NFL to put pressure on Brady. Camp opens next week you know!
All along this process the NFL has controlled the message that is being put out and which the general public and media outside of New England (and certain influential media folks inside New England) are eager to gobble up. Come to think of it, how do we know that Dan Shaughnessy and Michael Felger aren’t being controlled by the NFL?
To cap this off, we have this Tweet from today, which pretty much encapsulates this whole thing:
Longtime ESPN reporter, good ‘ol boy, asks his contact in the league about a matter that has held America hostage for seven months now. He gets in return a joke about his golf game, indicating a chummy relationship with this particular source as he knows about the golf ability of Werder. Ha ha!
We’ll have to get together and play 18 real soon, Ed! And on the back nine I can tell you all about how we’re gonna nail that cheater, Brady!
That’s just how they do things down there.
Update – 7/27 – It happened again.
Over the weekend, ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio said on a San Diego radio station:
“[By reducing the suspension] you’re angering some of the hard-core owners out there,” said Paolantonio. “I know who they are and I’m gonna name ‘em right now: Jim Irsay of the Colts. Steve Bisciotti of the Ravens and others in the AFC who believe the Patriots have gotten away with murder for years and have not been publicly punished properly.”
Again, with a leak coming out that puts the NFL in a bad light, it was refuted quickly. Bisciotti himself went on the defensive, telling Jamison Hensley of ESPN that he has not pressured Goodell about the case, calling Paolantonio “100% wrong” and saying it would be “unfair to Robert Kraft, who is honorable person and to his franchise.” Longtime NFL Executive Joe Banner also weighed in.