A little more than a year ago, the most tiresome scandal in recent professional sports history came to its official end: Deflategate, the final fallout of which being the forfeiture of a New England Patriots fourth-round draft pick in 2017. Before last year's draft, of course, the story of the slightly but scientifically explainable underinflated footballs was covered ad nauseam by networks all over the country.
One of the major players when it came to the media's coverage of Deflategate was Sports Illustrated after it echoed a report by ESPN that the air pressure levels inside the Patriots' footballs on the day of the 2014 AFC Championship Game were significantly below the guidelines allowed by the NFL. The author of the Sports Illustrated story was the magazine's number one pro football writer, Peter King.
King's report added more fuel to the fire that was Deflategate by giving the accusations levied against the Patriots even more credibility. This undeniably played a role in shaping public opinion of the whole affair and by extension might even have had an effect on the NFL's penalties: The Patriots were stripped two draft choices while quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games – all on shaky scientific grounds.
New England's footballs, after all, were very well within the expected PSI range. However, that was not what ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Sports Illustrated's King initially reported – and at least King seems to be aware of that. As early as August 2015, he apologized to the Patriots and their fans for publicizing false information. Earlier this week, more than three years after Deflategate started, he again spoke about it.
King, who will leave Sports Illustrated to join NBC, was a guest on Richard Deitsch's Sports Media Podcast and the Deflategate reporting was also mentioned:
I got a significant fact in the Ray Rice story wrong when he visited the league office and had his hearing, and then I got a significant fact wrong when I confirmed Chris Mortensen’s story about the footballs being more than two pounds under pressure. And in both cases, I admitted it. In one case – the Patriots case – I offered my resignation to Chris Stone, and they said no. But I would have resigned, because that is something that you cannot get wrong.
I got it wrong, and I deserve all the criticism for that that comes my way. I don’t shy away from it. And when I think of my career at SI, those are two things I’m ashamed of – totally ashamed – because that can’t happen. You can’t get facts like that wrong. Was I told something by someone who I trusted that turned out to be wrong? Yes. It’s not their fault. It’s my fault. No one cares why you got something wrong. I got it wrong. If the source that I talked to was wrong, it doesn’t matter. I got it wrong.
King's statement is noteworthy for two reasons: For one, it shows him claiming further responsibility for his erroneous reporting; something ESPN and Mortensen never did even after the facts came to light during Deflategate's legal battle between Brady and the NFL front office. Furthermore, King illustrates just how damaging getting the facts wrong can be for all those involved – from the story's subjects to the journalist him or herself.
The Patriots experienced this first-hand during Deflategate (and Spygate before that) as they had to defend themselves from the get-go even before all facts were gathered. King, putting too much trust in his sources to deliver him accurate information, almost fell victim to this as well.