N.F.L. Reports That Patriots Personnel Probably Intentionally Deflated Balls
As you may recall, the two weeks between the AFC and NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl earlier this year was taken up with a scandal surrounding the New England Patriots that came to be known as “DeflateGate.” The story began in the wake of the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts when the Colts claimed that one of the game balls supplied by the Patriots for their own use during the game were under-inflated in violation of N.F.L. rules. The Colts brought the matter to the attention of referees at halftime, after which they found that some of the balls were below the required pressure. Those balls were inflated back to the correct pressure and the teams played the second half to a Patriots victory. The Patriots denied the allegations, but the N.F.L. opened an investigation anyway, and it was later reported that as many as ten of the twelve balls that the Patriots brought to the game were under the required pressure. The Patriots, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl, and now the N.F.L. has released a report investigating the matter which certainly casts the Patriots and their Quarterback Tom Brady in a bad light:
The results of a nearly four-month investigation stated that “it is more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel intentionally deflated footballs to gain an advantage against the Indianapolis Colts in the A.F.C. championship game in January, and that Tom Brady, the Super Bowl’s most valuable player, was probably aware of it.
No penalties have been announced by the N.F.L.
The investigation, which was conducted by Tedd Wells and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, concluded that it was probable that Patriots personnel were “involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.”
The report, which was released Wednesday, said that Jim McNally, a locker-room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, were involved in releasing air from the footballs. It said that besides those two and Brady, no other Patriots personnel, including Coach Bill Belichick, were aware of any wrongdoing. The report separately determined that the Patriots had not deliberately tried to introduce an improper football for kicking and cleared kicker Stephen Gostkowski of any wrongdoing.
Investigators looked at a wide range of evidence, including footballs, emails, text messagaes, security footage and weather data. McNally and Jastremski received sneakers, jerseys, autographs and other items from Brady in the months before the A.F.C. championship game, the report said.
The Patriots won the A.F.C. championship game, 45-7, but in the first half, a member of the Colts gave the officials a ball that appeared to be underinflated. The officials checked all 12 of the Patriots game balls and determined that all but one were below the mandated amount of air pressure, leading to a series of tense press conferences by Brady, Belichick and the team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft.
“To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the A.F.C. championship game, would be a gross understatement,” Kraft said in a statement.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., said in a statement: “Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type.”
Wells, one of the country’s top defense lawyers, has experience working in sports. He was also hired by the N.F.L. in November 2013 to investigate the scandal that engulfed the Dolphins. He led a special investigation into allegations of sexual harassment on Syracuse University’s basketball team and was hired by the N.B.A. players union to look into allegations of inappropriate financial dealings at the union. His report, also made public, led to the ouster of the union’s chief, Billy Hunter.
More from ESPN: (emphasis mine)
The NFL has found that it is probable that New England Patriots personnel deliberately deflated balls during the AFC Championship Game in January and that quarterback Tom Brady was probably “at least generally aware” of the rules violations.
The findings were released Wednesday in a 243-page report by Ted Wells, the league-appointed attorney who investigated whether the Patriots deflated balls in their game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” the report said. “In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally [the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots] and John Jastremski [an equipment assistant for the Patriots] participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady [the quarterback for the Patriots] was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”
The report includes text messages between McNally and Jastremski — sent in October and January — that imply Brady was requesting footballs deflated below 12.5 pounds per square inch. They described requests from McNally for shoes and signed footballs from Brady in exchange for deflating the balls.
The texts imply that Brady had previously been upset with the quality of the game balls.
“Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to sign,” one said.
“Nice throw in some kicks and make it real special,” another said.
The NFL is considering discipline for Brady, McNally and Jastremski, a source close to the investigation told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Discipline is “days” away, the source said.
It also concluded that there was no deliberate attempt by the Patriots to introduce a non-approved kicking ball during the Colts game.
“Although Patriots personnel provided a kicking ball to game officials that did not have the distinctive inspection mark of the referee, we find that the Patriots personnel involved believed the ball to be authentic and appropriate,” the report stated. “We do not believe that there was any attempt by Patriots personnel, including Patriots kickerStephen Gostkowski, to deliberately circumvent the rules by offering the kicking ball for play.”
The Patriots won the AFC title and went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later.
The report’s findings now will be turned over to Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations.
“As with other recent matters involving violations of competitive rules, Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “At the same time, we will continue our efforts vigorously to protect the integrity of the game and promote fair play at all times.”
It does not appear that the report, which I have embedded below, reaches any definitive conclusions regarding the deflation of game balls and whether or not anyone beyond the game officials knew anything about what was going on. The implication from the text messages that are included in the report, of course, is that Tom Brady was aware of what was going on, and may have even requested that he be given deflated game balls. This would contradict the statement that Brady gave to the press in the immediate aftermath of the AFC Championship game where he said that he had no knowledge regarding the matter and that he didn’t even care very much about how much a ball was or was not inflated. Presumably, this is the same statement he gave to league investigators. Implications, however, are not proof of anything and absent that proof I’m not sure at all where this leaves things. It would be difficult for the league to impose significant sanctions on either Brady or the team based on what amounts to circumstantial evidence, it seems, and the Patriots can continue with their claims that there was no wrongdoing, although the assertion that was made in a report prepared for the team that the deflation was caused by weather conditions seems to have been thoroughly debunked in the report.
Assuming that something more than probabilities can be established, the next question would become what punishments the league should hand out for what could potentially be a conspiracy to violate one of its rules. At the time the story first broke, some suggested that the Patriots should be barred from the Super Bowl, but that was always an absurd suggestion and anything similar such as taking away their victory in the Super Bowl would be as well. Given the fact that they defeated the Colts 45-7, and that they scored more points in the second half of the game than they did in the first, it seems silly to suggest that the Patriots only won the AFC Championship game because of deflated balls. In the Super Bowl, the referees took complete responsibility for providing and handing out the game balls, which probably should be the rule for every game as I argued in January, so they obviously didn’t play a role there. All the same, the Patriots already have a history of violating rules in the SpyGate scandal, and the team was already being criticized last season with allegations that it had played fast and loose with the eligible/ineligible player rules. So, they don’t exactly come into this with clean hands, and that may influence how the league chooses to handle things if they’re able to establish something more than just “probabilities.” In Spy Gate, Bill Belicheck was personally fined $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000, and the team lost draft picks. This time, the league may decide that it needs to be harsher if only to send a message to other teams.
Here’s the report: