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Wells Report news didn’t change many minds

There has been much speculation about what the fallout of the Wells Report could mean for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF/File 2015

If you scour deep enough and somehow can prioritize common sense ahead of rooting interest, there are some near-conclusions to be found in the Wells Report, the 243-page examination of the circumstances surrounding the slight but relevant deflation of game footballs in the Patriots’ possession before January’s AFC Championship game.

It’s easy to believe that Tom Brady, a perfectionist whose legendary success comes in some part from his attention to details big and small, was, to borrow the legalese lingo of the report, at least “generally aware” of any manipulation of the footballs to his benefit and liking before the game. The circumstantial evidence sure makes it seem like he knew what was up, even if the report doesn’t outright call him out, falling back on “more probable than not” verbal hedging.


What else? Well, it’s also easy to believe that the Gronkowski brothers probably have more nuanced text conversations than Jim McNally and John Jastremski, the Patriots employees who handled the game balls and, according to the report, appeared to be in cahoots in making sure they were to Brady’s liking.

At one point, after McNally threatens, with an expletive expressing frustration with Brady’s demands, that he’s going to overinflate the balls, Jastremski goes all teenage girl in his reply: “Omg! Spaz.” It’s hilarious and embarrassing at once.

But the main takeaway from the release of the Wells Report, at least from a media columnist’s perspective, is:

The cautious language in the report and the lack of a smoking gun — “more probable than not” entered our sports lexicon faster than even the Bill Belichick instant classic “We’re on to Cincinnati” — allowed for fans and media to believe what they wanted to believe before the report was ever released.

(It also allowed the quarterback’s father, Tom Brady Sr., to coin a new phrase while expressing his disgust with the report: Framegate.)


It’s hard to believe the report changed the minds of more than a few scattered undecided voters in regard to what Brady and the Patriots did or didn’t do with the footballs. The vague conclusion of the report allows a reader to find justification and defense for just about any aspect of this.

If you’re a Patriots fan, an argument can be made that this is hardly a crime but merely a football misdemeanor — a point made by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday’s “Dennis and Callahan” program — and besides, McNally and Jastremski’s texted complaints about Brady suggest that they are not the most trustworthy subjects.

And if you do not like the Patriots — a vocal majority nationally, to be sure — you can find ways to embolden and enhance your anti-Brady arguments, starting with the fact that his “I know nothing of any wrongdoing” stance during an awkward news conference a few days after the AFC Championship game looks like something between creative wording and blatant dishonesty. It’s not a good look for a player and person who has rarely suffered a blemish on his image during his 15-season career, a point Grantland’s Bill Simmons made perfectly on the “Dan Patrick Show” Thursday afternoon.

“[Brady] just handled it badly,” Simmons said. “And I don’t know how you fix that. Because, as you know, this is a very unforgiving sports culture in 2015. It’s all about extremes. Everything’s either the best or the worst. You’re either the most dishonest person ever, or you’re the best person ever. This is just the way sports is now. This is how we consume it.”


Maybe it would have happened this way even had the Wells Report been more conclusive. But the gray area left much open for interpretation, and that resulted in some of the nation’s most well-known columnists, commentators, and caterwaulers to weigh in with various opinions — and pandering victory laps — on what the fallout could be for Brady and the Patriots. Here’s a sampling — I suspect it’s not necessary to identify which ones are the most absurd:

Shannon Sharpe, former Broncos tight end and ex-CBS NFL commentator, via Twitter: “Brady must be suspended for minimum of 2-4 gms. Belichick gets 1 yr and tm loses 1st rd draft pick 2016-17. Tm gets fined the max.”

Steve Serby, New York Post: “The Pretty Boy doesn’t look so pretty anymore, and now he will be forced to wear a pair of Scarlet Letters when the 2015 NFL season begins: C for Cheater, L for Liar.”

Andrew Brandt, Sports Illustrated: “I would expect a multigame suspension of Brady, perhaps four games (and it would be games, not weeks).”

Rick Gosselin, Dallas Morning News: “A slap on the wrist will no longer suffice. The integrity of the game is at stake.”

Troy Aikman, former Cowboys quarterback and current Fox NFL analyst, referencing Saints coach Sean Payton’s one-year suspension during the 2012 season after Bountygate: “Now twice under Bill Belichick and possibly a third time, they’ve cheated and given themselves an advantage. To me, the punishment for the Patriots and/or Bill Belichick has to be more severe than what the punishment was for the New Orleans Saints.”


Then there are the likes of ESPN’s Woody Paige, who is not the lone voice calling for a one-year ban for Brady but probably the most prominent. If commissioner Roger Goodell and his new discipline proxy, Troy Vincent, are gauging public opinion before levying a punishment, that doesn’t bode well for a reasonable and appropriate disciplinary action. The noise is only going to get louder — the national networks in particular love to seize on the what-do-we-tell-our-children? angle, and absurdly, the merits of all of Brady’s accomplishments are now a matter of debate. The CNN headline Thursday: Tom Brady legacy up in the air over Deflategate saga.

For all of the serious news sites that are seizing upon and magnifying this story, it’s telling that the superb football news and humor site, Kissing Suzy Kolber, came the closest to finding the real reason it’s a matter of debate: envy among the other 31 fanbases regarding the Patriots’ long run of success and the perceived arrogance with which they’ve done it.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.