- Many retired NFL players and coaches said that altering footballs in games to get an advantage is something teams have done for decades. It's against the rules -- which means it's cheating -- yet it doesn't seem to have much of an effect on games.
- The NFL let news of this thing leak with inaccurate information (saying that the Patriots' footballs were much more deflated than they were) and then didn't acknowledge that the information was incorrect for days, significantly biasing public opinion.
So I wasn't surprised when the Wells Report was released today and showed what we already knew: there's a bunch of circumstantial evidence that a couple Patriots employees deflated footballs for Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, but no hard proof that this is what happened. Still, with so much smoke it's unlikely that there's no fire causing it. Nothing good, but nothing new.
But there is one major revelation in the report: clear proof that Tom Brady lied repeatedly about his role in the affair: at the press conference (where he seemed visibly uncomfortable) and in interviews with Ted Wells and NFL investigators. This, to me, is the major punishable offense.
The Patriots as an organization aren't culpable -- the ownership, management, and coaching staff were exonerated in the report -- so punishing the team seems uncalled for. But punishing Brady? I think that is definitely called for.
The cover-up is always worse than the crime. Tom Brady cheated in a big game to get a slight competitive advantage that turned out not to matter much in the end. Not honorable, but also not notable. There are almost certainly hundreds of players in the league using PEDs banned by the NFL that give them advantages at least as great as the one Brady wanted from the slightly softer footballs. But, once the NFL started investigating his actions, he obstructed the investigation by lying. That is notable, and absolutely justifies a suspension. I'd say two games fits, but others have different opinions.
The people who question Brady's accomplishments because of this are nuts. The people who question his integrity are not. Adam Kilgore over at WaPo has what I feel is a clear take on the situation:
Tom Brady is one of the greatest players in NFL history, the only quarterback to play in six Super Bowls, the undisputed on-field leader of the sport’s most successful franchise in this generation. He is also a liar. Brady probably cheated, an NFL-commissioned report found, and he lied about it. The actions do not invalidate his career, but they incinerated his golden-boy image and made messy the once-simple assessment of his place in history. ...Yeah. That about sums it up for me.
Brady’s historic place as a quarterback should remain stable, because to say otherwise would make the mistake of conflating morals and athletic achievement. The enhanced grip matters, yes, but it is not responsible for Super Bowl rings and 4,000-yard passing seasons. It helped, just like Vaseline on an offensive lineman’s jersey helps keep defensive linemen from yanking him around. He cheated, but not in a way that guaranteed success.
But what remains of Brady’s golden reputation just disappeared. You can still appreciate Brady’s precision, his quick mind, his steady leadership. Much of his brilliance on the field resided in his ability to always find the right play, to never put himself in a tough situation.
Away from the field, when he found himself in a difficult spot, he resorted to a different tactic. There was no defense to manipulate or play to change. He had two choices: to admit and explain what he did or evade. And Tom Brady lied.