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Ben Volin | On football

Deflating the myths about Deflategate

To most objective fans, Tom Brady comes off as a sympathetic figure. The Deflategate controversy should not stop him from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
To most objective fans, Tom Brady comes off as a sympathetic figure. The Deflategate controversy should not stop him from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/File

Deflategate is over now, and you’re probably past “disbelief” and somewhere between “anger” and “acceptance” in the seven stages of grief. Tom Brady is going to serve his four-game suspension and there’s nothing anyone can do about it anymore.

Training camp begins Thursday and Patriots fans are no doubt ready to move #onto2016, but we’re not quite done with Deflategate yet. Some of us happened to be on vacation without a laptop 10 days ago when Brady laid down his sword, and after covering this foolishness for the last 18 months we can’t let the story die without resolving a few loose ends.


When reading the media coverage last week, one thing we noticed was how warped the public perception of this story has become. Much like the NFL misconstrued and intentionally fudged some facts to build a case against Brady and the Patriots, so too have the Brady/Patriot defenders conveniently forgotten or misrepresented some of the facts when defending their hero. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

So let’s take one last hard look at Deflategate and, in the grand style of the Patriots’ Wells Report in Context website, clear up some of the myths that have permeated the coverage of this story:

1. The ball pressure data proves the Patriots are innocent

No. No. No no no no no.

We all know plenty about the Ideal Gas Law at this point and how footballs deflate naturally in cold weather. If the data gathered by the NFL during halftime of the 2015 AFC Championship game were done in a proper laboratory setting, with all variables eliminated, then we could probably say that the data proves that the football deflation occurred naturally. But that didn’t happen here. This was a sloppy, hastily conducted experiment that wouldn’t meet the standards of a sixth-grade science fair.

Referee Walt Anderson says he checked every football before the game with a gauge, and he believes that the Patriots’ footballs all tested at 12.5 PSI, although some of them could have been 12.6. But we have no proof of this, other than his word. No one witnessed him checking the footballs and he didn’t log the data. How do we know he even used a gauge before the game and didn’t just give the footballs the old squeeze test?


And even if we take Anderson at his word that he did use a gauge, how many footballs were at 12.6? Were any at 12.4? Or 12.7? Every 0.1 PSI matters here.

We don’t know what the real temperature was in the officials’ locker room. Exponent conducted its experiments assuming the temperature was between 67 and 71 degrees, but did the temperature rise to 72 or 73 when all those people were crammed into the room to check the footballs? Every degree matters.

On top of it, Anderson didn’t even know which gauge he used before the game. And at halftime, the testers switched gauges when testing the Patriots’ and Colts’ balls, for some reason.

Too many assumptions were used to take the data seriously. And it works both ways, of course. The data doesn’t prove that the Patriots are innocent, and it doesn’t prove them guilty, either. Ted Wells acknowledged as much in his report.

“Our scientific consultants informed us that the data alone did not provide a basis for them to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is ultimately dependent upon assumptions and information that is uncertain,” Wells wrote. “We therefore have been careful not to give undue weight to the experimental results and have instead relied on the totality of the evidence developed during the investigation.”


Yup, it’s the “other stuff” that led Roger Goodell to levying the harshest penalties in NFL history against Brady and the Patriots. You know, the text messages where Jim McNally calls himself “the deflator” and jokes about “going to ESPN,” and Brady destroying his cellphone on the morning of his meeting with Wells but not telling anyone about it until months later, and the Patriots not letting Wells get follow-up interviews with McNally and John Jastremski, and more.

As I’ve said for over a year now, we could clear this whole story up in about two seconds if the Patriots would just make McNally available to explain what “the deflator” means, but their outright refusal on this issue is telling.

2. Tom Brady’s reputation was irreparably damaged

Yes, Deflategate and the four-game suspension will now forever appear on Brady’s Wikipedia page. But his fans now support and believe in him more than ever, and based on the national media coverage of Deflategate, so do most reasonably-minded neutral observers. He’s still going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer (the only issue is whether he will be a unanimous choice, which I bet he will be). He didn’t lose one single endorsement, and in fact recently gained a new one in Beautyrest mattresses.


The only people calling him a cheater and a liar are the Jets, Ravens, and Colts fans who didn’t like Brady to begin with and probably think they’re being hilariously original by using terms like “Tom Shady” and “Cheatriots.”

If anything, Brady emerges from Deflategate as a sympathetic figure, as pretty much everyone can agree that a four-game suspension is far too harsh for any sins committed here.

3. Roger Goodell was Deflategate’s biggest loser

Hahaha. That’s a good one.

I’ve seen that sentiment a lot over the last two weeks, and it’s nonsense. Yes, we all dislike Goodell, but his job isn’t to be liked. In fact, it’s the opposite: It’s to carry out the wishes of the 32 owners and be their punching bag.

Goodell hardly went on this crusade against Brady and the Patriots on his own. The owners told him: “Punish the Patriots. We don’t care how you do it, just find a way.” And he did.

Goodell’s disciplinary powers have now been strengthened and cemented by a decisive legal victory. He helped the owners pummel the NFL Players Association yet again and gave his bosses yet another trump card to use in the next labor dispute, currently scheduled for 2021. And he’s making about $35 million per year.

Pretty sure Goodell is a winner here, and the NFLPA is the big loser (with the Patriots a close second).

“If there was an election held today, the overwhelming majority of owners would reelect him,” Giants owner John Mara recently told The MMQB.


4. You have to pick sides — either Brady/NFLPA or Goodell/NFL

There was nothing black-and-white about Deflategate, and it’s not easy choosing a side. In fact, everyone involved in this story comes away from it appearing rather odious.

It is not incongruous to believe that the Patriots’ employees were probably tinkering with the footballs, that Brady was probably “generally aware” of it, that inaccurate leaks from the NFL office put the Patriots on the defensive and escalated this story to heights it didn’t deserve, that Goodell and the NFL led a biased investigation with a predetermined conclusion of guilt, that Brady deserved some sort of punishment but that four games was far too harsh (one game would’ve been appropriate), that Goodell and Jeff Pash twisted several facts to justify this ridiculous ordeal and sway public opinion against Brady, that the Patriots have been shady about sending McNally and Jastremski into exile, that Robert Kraft should have stopped complaining once he caved in and accepted the punishments, that federal district judge Richard Berman overstepped his bounds and got caught up in the celebrity of the case, that the appellate judges got it right, that the whining from Patriots fans and Goodell haters has been insufferable, and that many of the scientists and lawyers who tangentially got involved did so not out of a sense of truth and justice but in search of their 15 minutes of fame.

And that’s where we stand after 18 months of this mess — no closer to the truth, but with a revealing look at how the NFL, the Patriots, and our legal system works behind closed doors.

Related: Guide to Patriots training camp

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.