More than eight years after the scandal known as Deflategate dominated news cycles, its legacy can still be felt around pro football. The recent NFL investigation into the Washington Commanders’ alleged improper business practices and workplace misconduct is further proof of that, and shows that the league appears to be employing a double standard when it comes to one franchise versus another.
To recap, the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady were accused of illegally tampering with the air pressure inside footballs to gain a competitive advantage in the 2014 AFC Championship Game against Indianapolis. The allegations made were later disproven by several independent scientific analyses, but the league still brought down the hammer against the team.
Following an NFL-sponsored investigation, the Patriots had to forfeit first- and fourth-round selections in the 2016 draft and fined $1 million. Brady was originally suspended the first four games of the 2015 season — a suspension pushed back a year after a lengthy court battle.
This brings us back to the aforementioned Commanders investigation. Brady’s suspension, after all, was in large part because of what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell described as a “failure to cooperate” with the league-hired investigative team led by attorney Ted Wells:
[T]he ability to conduct an investigation — whether by NFL staff or by independent parties retained by the NFL — ultimately depends on cooperation ... [T]he NFL is entitled to expect and insist upon the cooperation of owners, League employees, club employees and players in a workplace investigation and to impose sanctions when such cooperation is not forthcoming, when evidence is hidden, fabricated, or destroyed, when witnesses are intimidated or not produced upon reasonable request, or when individuals do not provide truthful information.
Why is this now relevant, eight years after the fact? Because Commanders owner Dan Snyder has been anything but “forthcoming” and, according to a report by the Washington Post, declined to be interviewed by attorney Mary Jo White.
The NFL, meanwhile, appears to sit idly by — unlike when Brady was under investigation in 2015. Roger Goodell’s press conference at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix earlier this week further stoked speculation about the league treating Snyder favorably compared to the Patriots’ former quarterback.
Roger Goodell on if the league would punish Dan Snyder should he not meet with Mary Jo White. pic.twitter.com/l0se2oX4fg— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) March 29, 2023
“I’m not going to speculate,” Goodell said. “I think Mary Jo White makes the determination who she speaks to, and when she speaks to them. That’s what she should do. We’ll allow her to do her job.”
While Goodell’s statements do not give a lot of information — as they tend to do — Snyder not having complied to the investigation’s request to interview him does send a message nonetheless. It also would not be the first time, he tried to evade giving insight into his business dealings and alleged sexual misconduct.
For several months last year, Snyder and his legal team delayed participation in a probe by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was ultimately interviewed remotely via Israel, but according to the committee’s final report gave misleading answers and evaded questions.
Similar behavior as part of this current NFL investigation should, per Goodell’s own writing in the Deflategate case, lead to sanctions against Snyder and possibly his franchise — the same as had happened to the Patriots in 2015:
[Failure to cooperate] indisputably constitutes conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.
That point of view is also shared by Lisa Banks, who represents more than 40 former Commanders employees together with fellow attorney Debra Katz.
“It is inconceivable that the NFL would allow Dan Snyder to avoid participating in a league-mandated investigation into Snyder’s own alleged sexual misconduct and financial wrongdoing, particularly when a number of my clients have once again put themselves on the line to assist in such an investigation,” Banks told The Washington Post in a statement.
“If Dan Snyder is truly refusing to participate in Mary Jo White’s investigation, or is insisting on special accommodations for such participation, it speaks volumes about the NFL’s ongoing protection of him, as well as his own mindset.”
Time will tell whether or not the NFL will either force Snyder to participate or penalize him for his failure to cooperate. The Deflategate case should have not left any room for doubt, but the league’s inconsistency in applying its own rules has been well-documented.
The Patriots and Tom Brady came out on the wrong end of this. The Commanders and Dan Snyder, on the other hand, still appear to be in the league’s good graces.