“Nothing is more intolerable than having to admit to yourself your own errors”
-Ludwig Van Beethoven
It takes ESPN a while to catch up on what’s happening sometimes, so it’s only fitting that this headline comes equipped with Dr Evil air-quotes in the title:
Fun fact, Austin Powers came out in 1997, so there may well be thousands of Patriots fans out there that were born around then and have witnessed 6 Super Bowl wins, and probably haven’t seen the movie and only know Dr Evil as that weird bald guy GIF.
Anyway, if you’re familiar with the idea of the Friday Afternoon News Dump, ESPN decided to publish this “.....did you just say what I think you said?” feature from flagship writer Kevin Seifert bright and early at 6:30am on Saturday morning, when most of us were either sleeping it off, getting ready for work, or watching Premier League. If I hadn’t seen it straight from the blue-checkmarked account of a senior writer from The Worldwide Leader in Sources, I wouldn’t have believed my own eyeballs, and you’re talking to a guy who believes every single thing on Ancient Aliens:
Free advice to everyone in the baseball world who thinks @MLB has not pursued cheating rumors with enough vigor: On behalf of the @NFL world, be careful what you wish for! Column: https://t.co/HhaNzHGTfF— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) January 18, 2020
Truth be told, just based on the teaser, since every movie gets a sequel and a reboot and a prequel now anyway, I was expecting something more like From SpyGate to DeflateGate II: The Dorito Dink Strikes back, even though this was a full week after the New England Patriots got upset in the wild card round. You guys do remember this Seth Wickersham/Don Van Natta gem that just so happened to drop right after Judge Richard Berman controversially ruled that no, Roger, you cannot suspend a player just because integrity, buddy:
Turns out though, as usual, I was wrong! Seifert’s piece wasn’t actually a prequel to the sequel for Seth Wickersham’s “For Kraft, Brady, and Belichick, is this the beginning of the end?” from January of 2018, which you probably remember as the feature article that insinuated sometimes the smartest, most competitive people in the room with collective decades of experience occasionally do not agree with each other. 2020’s DeflateGate article starts out by playing Kanye to the Houston Astros’ Taylor Swift and goes “Imma let you finish, but DeflateGate was the greatest scandal of all time”.
We get it, you help build something from the ground up, it’s kinda your baby and you’re going to be proud of it.
By the 4th paragraph, though, we’ve already hit the shortcut on Koopa Troopa Beach and ended all the way up here!
At best, it was a relatively minor rules violation that no rational person would link to the Patriots’ victory two weeks later in Super Bowl XLIX. At worst, Deflategate was a retroactive framing of the league’s most successful franchise and a future Hall of Fame quarterback, a clumsy and forgettable endeavor and an unfortunate reminder that the NFL’s standard for discipline demands only that an event was “more probable than not” to have occurred.
“Retroactive” is doing some Crossfit-level heavy lifting here, given that, you know, this whole “AHA! GOTCHA!” situation allegedly started with the Ravens contacting the Colts and the Colts complaining to the NFL about the rumors they had heard from the Crabcake City before the 2014 AFC Championship Game even began. Let’s keep reading!
Oh, right, ostensibly, the premise here is that the Astros should be grateful the MLB didn’t act like the NFL did, so after noting that everyone involved with the sign-stealing controversy pretty much fessed up and got suspended and/or told to turn in their keycard by lunchtime, here’s ESPN retconning themselves onto the right side of history with what happened to New England (well, sort of):
The Patriots? They paid dearly for a far less consequential allegation, in part because the NFL considered them repeat cheaters after the 2007 Spygate affair.
In this case, however, the Patriots denied nearly every aspect of the NFL’s allegations, including Brady’s involvement, and took extraordinary steps to defend themselves. That effort included a website to dispute the NFL’s Wells Report on the scandal, one that included multiple scientists pointing out that footballs can deflate naturally based on weather conditions.
Sounds an awful lot to me like we’re on the same page about scientists acknowledging weather conditions can affect football PSI, but I also have a lower batting average on Tinder than a National League pitcher facing the Astros in interleague play, so, maybe I’m reading that wrong.
Anyway, moving on...let’s see where ESPN ends up here, surely it’ll just be some “I guess we’ll never know for sure”....wait a minute:
Yet when it was all over, no one could say for sure if Deflategate actually happened. A reasonable person could be left thinking that the investigation itself was the true scandal.
The link is, wait for it...another piece from Kevin Seifert from the dog days of summer in 2016, titled “500 Days Later, Deflategate is still full of mystery”.
These reboots, I’m telling you, I never thought I’d say I prefer the original 500 Days of Summer, but here we are.
Let’s keep going!
Wells Report, obligatory mention of balls in the bathroom, and HANG ON, pull the e-brake:
There was no direct evidence that the equipment assistant removed air from the footballs, or that Brady asked him to do it. And the halftime inflation measurement was a rushed and haphazard effort, one that would never pass scientific scrutiny to confirm accuracy.
Achievement Unlocked: you’ve caught up to a 7th grader’s science fair project!
Speaking of middle school curriculum...
In the end, it is nothing more than an opinion to suggest that it was “more probable than not” that Deflategate happened. In the terms of advanced statistics, the NFL was saying there was a 51% probability that Deflategate occurred but a 100% necessity to issue discipline.
That’s not advanced statistics, that is literally how probability works.
The shaky connections and the preposterous conclusions of Deflategate have allowed it to slip quietly from the NFL consciousness.
Agreed that said conclusions was outrageous, egregious, and preposterous, definitely preposterous, but if you’ve figured the whole thing quietly slipped from the NFL consciousness...haven’t been in a sports bar in a while, have ya Kev?
The league has never released the results of tests on football air pressure, nor acknowledged a single violation in the years since.
Everyone must’ve just kept their nose clean since 2015 then, Roger Goodell successfully cleans up the streets of Gotham again!
All right, one more for the road, ESPN:
Five mostly quiet years later, I’d like to say the NFL learned a lesson.
So we’ll reserve judgment on whether the NFL has moved past its phase of incendiary investigations. It could just be on the five-year plan, and if that’s the case, keep your head on a swivel this weekend.
Eh, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. The Patriots are already playing golf and actually playing in the Pro Bowl for a change. Where’s the fun in that?