Who has forgotten the infamous deflate gate scandal that arose back in January, so named when it was discovered that the game balls used by the New England Patriots during the first half of the AFC Championship game with the Indianapolis Colts were under-inflated, raising the possibility that they were purposely deflated in order to please quarterback Tom Brady’s known preference for a softer football. (See previous blog, Deflate Gate Part I.) Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady gave press conferences denying any knowledge of tampering, and flatly denied any wrongdoing. At that time, the NFL promised a full investigation into the matter, because as Brady stated, it was not merely the air inside a football at issue, but “the integrity of the game.”
Four months later, a 243-page report has been released by attorney Ted Wells. The Wells report contains an exhaustive investigation, comprehensive legal analysis, and a scientific study concluding that: (1) the balls were deliberately deflated (as opposed to simply losing pressure on their own, the theory put forward by Coach Belichick): (2) it is more probable than not two members of the Patriots organization participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from the Patriots’ game balls; and (3) Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.
While the phrases “more probable than not” and “generally aware” are somewhat vague, the evidence put forth in the Wells report is not. Text messages and emails refer to one of the locker room attendants involved as the “Deflator,” and also talk about him obtaining an air pump needle. Footage from a security camera captured the “Deflator” taking the air pump needle and the game balls into a restroom immediately prior to the game with the Colts. Texts and emails also discuss the same locker room attendants receiving sneakers, autographed footballs and jerseys in return for making the balls the way Brady likes them.
With respect to the Patriots’ star quarterback, the texts clearly implicate Tom Brady. Although Brady would not turn his cell phone over to the investigators, records show a flurry of calls and texts between him and the “Deflator” on the day of and the few days after news of the scandal broke. Appearing at an event a few days after the release of the Wells report, Brady was unfazed, smiling at a crowd of fans and shrugging off questions about his role or knowledge of the deflate gate.
MORE PROBABLE THAN NOT
This phrase in the report has been widely mocked, and in fact, Brady’s agent Don Yee took a sarcastic swipe at the language when he claimed that the report “suggests it may be more probable than not that the league cooperated with the Colts in perpetrating a sting operation.” But “more probable than not” is actually the preponderance of the evidence standard, the legal standard of proof that must be met in a civil case. Because this matter is not before a criminal court, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or even in a court at all, applying the burden of proof required for a civil lawsuit is fair.
Many have also questioned the fact that the report is based on circumstantial evidence. But as pointed out in a previous blog discussing the high-profile criminal case of Aaron Hernandez, circumstantial evidence can be very powerful. The prosecution’s case against Hernandez was built almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence, and he was convicted of first-degree murder.
ALL EYES ON THE NFL-AGAIN
Obviously, deflate gate is not in the same league as a first-degree murder trial (pun intended). Nonetheless, what the NFL does with the conclusions of the report that it requested has ramifications for league players, fans, and perhaps most importantly, kids. As stated by Brady, it is about the integrity of the game. It is about integrity, period. It is about setting an example for all children playing sports, or taking tests: cheating–and cheaters–will not be tolerated.