Whether you think the punishment for Deflategate was fair or not, there is a much bigger issue. In punishing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is once again putting himself before the league. No team or individual is supposed to be bigger than the NFL shield, yet Goodell obviously considers himself the exception.
To recap what has become known as “Deflategate,” Patriots QB Tom Brady was suspended without pay for four games, the team was fined $1 million and two draft picks (2016 first-round pick and 2017 fourth-round pick) were taken away. All of this because it is “more probable than not” that Brady “was at least generally aware” of the actions of two team employees. The United States is a country in which everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but Goodell is running the NFL like Soviet Russia.
The wording used in the 243-page Wells Report is nothing more than a way to accuse someone, in this case Brady, of something without proof. Not a single recovered text message or person interviewed for this report proved the QB was involved, or even knew about, the deflating of footballs.
Are there inferences one can make based on the evidence? Sure, but there is no smoking gun in this case.
The Wells Report drew its own conclusions and filled in its own blanks based on circumstantial evidence. Anything that favored the Patriots was hidden in footnotes, while anything that favored the NFL was on one of the first few pages of the report. Why? Because the NFL paid for the report.
Reports like this one, and the one Ted Wells wrote on the Miami Dolphins‘ bullying scandal, are meant to provide the purchaser with the outcome they desire. Wells and his law firm are doing nothing more than pleasing a customer. Just like any commercial for a law firm you see on television, the lawyer’s purpose is to get the customer what they want. In this case, the customer is a multi-billion-dollar company. It was clear that Goodell needed the report to go his way in order to keep his job. The Wells Report provided him with that job security.
If the Patriots were cleared of any wrongdoing after the league created a sting operation, how would the other 31 owners feel? NFL team owners are Goodell’s bosses. In any line of business, when an employee goes behind the back of their boss, there are repercussions. If there wasn’t any evidence against the Patriots or Brady, those repercussions could have resulted in Goodell losing his job. This may seem far-fetched, but how comfortable would the other 31 owners be knowing an employee may create a sting operation and wrongfully accuse their team? With the influence and respect Patriots owner Robert Kraft has among his fellow owners, Goodell likely would not have survived.
This is just another example of Goodell leading the NFL in the direction he sees fit. He’s the same person who is all of a sudden a leading advocate of player safety now that the league is being sued by former players. While he can talk about player safety all he wants, his actions speak louder than words. How did replacement officials make the game safer, commissioner? What about an 18-game season? Is that making the NFL safer? No, it’s not. All an 18-game season would do is further line your pockets.
At least common sense has prevailed in several disciplinary hearings during Goodell’s reign. Most recently, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have won appeals to be reinstated to the league after hearings with independent arbitrators. While the Rice and Peterson cases are very different from Deflategate, it’s at least comforting to know that the tyrant commissioner doesn’t have final say like he once did.
Whether you like the Patriots or not, it’s clear that Goodell is going to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to. Your favorite team or player could be next. It’s time for the 32 NFL owners to step up and end Goodell’s reign as Dictator. If it doesn’t happen soon, the NFL could crumble — much like the Soviet Union did 24 years ago.