Ted Wells, an NFL appointed attorney, released a 243-page report detailing his investigation into whether the New England Patriots deflated balls in their playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts January 18th. He concluded "It is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules". He cited the involvement of Jim McNally and John Jastremski and said of QB Tom Brady "It is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski."
Wells concludes: "It is unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady's knowledge and approval."
Why does the deflation of some footballs matter? The game was a blowout, with the Patriots winning by a score of 45-7. Would regularly inflated balls have altered the result? The report states that there was "no deliberate attempt by the Patriots to introduce a non-approved kicking ball during the AFC Championship Game." The report specifically exonerates Patriot owner Robert Kraft and the coaching staff.
So is this much ado about nothing, a media feeding frenzy?
It matters because professional sports are venerated because of the understanding by the fans and press that they are watching real contests, with uniform equipment and rules. Games are decided by coaching decisions, schemes and genuine athletic skill and desire. This is why fans invest time and money in manifold ways to support the sport. Once this central proposition comes into question a sport risks being seen as a scripted and predetermined entertainment like wrestling.
The NFL now dominates American culture. Television ratings for games are unmatched by any other form of entertainment. One month into the season, Nielsen ratings for nighttime television viewing saw the top rated seven shows as nighttime NFL football. Approximately 40 million people play fantasy football. Stadiums are packed. Memorabilia sales are brisk. Content consisting of highlights, features, analysis and commentary runs on every platform -- the internet, television, radio.
Every so often, a football-related issue transcends the narrower genre of hard core football fans to become a national topic of discussion. "Deflategate" hit the third rail of public reaction. The public was outraged that America's favorite pastime could involve a form of cheating.
A primary responsibility of the Commissioner is to reassure the public about the integrity of the sport. Equipment alteration shakes public confidence. Tom Brady has been a hero to the public, as good a QB as the game has seen, and a genuinely positive person. Owner Bob Kraft is a paragon of excellence and character. The Patriots are a nationally recognized exemplar of excellence. There is a larger issue here-the integrity of the game. The spotlight now turns on Commissioner Roger Goodell, and what action he will take.
Originally posted on Forbes.com