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Deflategate

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Deflategate
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Gillette Stadium, the site of the game
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IND 0700 7
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Date January 18, 2015 (2015-01-18)
Stadium Gillette Stadium
Location Foxborough, Massachusetts

Deflategate, also sometimes known as Ballghazi,[1][2] is a controversy in the National Football League (NFL), stemming from an allegation that the New England Patriots used suspiciously underinflated footballs in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts on January 18, 2015.

Background

The official rules of the National Football League require footballs to be inflated to a gauge pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi) or 86 to 93 kPa. The rules do not specify the temperature at which such measurement is to be made.[3]

Prior to 2006, NFL custom was for the home team to provide all of the game footballs. In 2006, the rules were altered so that each team uses its own footballs while on offense. Teams rarely handle a football used by the other team except after recovering a fumble or interception. Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots (along with Peyton Manning, who was quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts in 2006), argued for the rules change for the express purpose of letting quarterbacks use footballs that suited them.[4]

Underinflating a football may make it easier to grip, throw, and catch, and may inhibit fumbling, especially in cold rainy conditions.[5] A ball inflated in a warm room and taken to a cold field could lose pressure, according to Gay-Lussac's law. However, the magnitude of the pressure change observed in the game balls was inconsistent with that predicted analytically, suggesting that human intervention was involved (see below).

Early reports suggested that the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens first suspected that the footballs the Patriots were using in the games against each team might have been deliberately underinflated to gain an illegal advantage during the 2014 NFL regular season,[6][7] although head coach John Harbaugh denied reports concerning the Ravens.[8]

AFC Championship Game

The American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game for the 2014 season was played on January 18, 2015, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots, who hosted the Indianapolis Colts for the chance to play in Super Bowl XLIX.

During the first half of the AFC Championship Game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception to Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. After the play was over, Jackson handed the ball to the Colts equipment manager for safekeeping as a souvenir. Early reports suggested that Jackson was the first to suspect the ball was under-inflated, but Jackson said he did not notice anything wrong with the ball he caught.[9] Jackson says he actually did not even know the ball was taken or that the controversy existed until he was being driven home from the team's charter plane after the Colts had arrived in Indianapolis."I wouldn't know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage," Jackson said. "I definitely wouldn't be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another."[10]

At halftime, league officials inspected the footballs. It was initially reported that eleven of the twelve balls used by the Patriots were measured to be two pounds per square inch below the minimum,[11][12] but later reports refuted this allegation, citing only a single ball two pounds per square inch below the minimum.[13]

According to NFL official Dean Blandino, referees do not log the pressure of the balls prior to the game, or if checked during the game, and did not do so in this case. Walt Anderson, the referee, "gauged" the footballs. The Patriots' game balls were re-inflated at halftime to meet specifications.[14]

Conflicting reports arose over what footballs were used in the second half. An unconfirmed report states that the Patriots used their backup set of footballs in the second half, instead of the original 12 footballs,[15] while other reports asserted that the under-inflated footballs were re-inflated at halftime. No issues were raised on the pressure of the footballs used in the second half.[16][17] It is unknown whether the pressures of the Colts' footballs were measured at halftime.

The Patriots led 17–7 at the half; in the second half, the Patriots scored 28 unanswered points for a final score of 45-7.[18]

The National Football League began an investigation into the underinflation of the game balls.[19][20] The report of the investigation was released in May 2015.[21]

Investigation

On January 22, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick indicated that he did not know anything about the balls being under-inflated until the day after the event, and that the New England Patriots would "cooperate fully" with any investigation.[22] He said,
When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to hear about the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge of the situation until Monday morning. [...] I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on the footballs. They know a lot more than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you, and they will tell you, that there's never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Zero. [...] Tom's personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide.[22]
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady initially referred to the accusations as "ridiculous".[23] Brady also held a news conference on January 22, prepping his team with a talk beforehand. He denied any involvement and stated that the National Football League had not contacted him in regard to their investigation.[24] He went on to say that he was handling the situation before the Super Bowl and that "this isn't ISIS".[25]

In another report, on January 25 a "league source" disclosed to Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com that 10 of the 12 footballs may have been closer to 11.5 PSI, a smaller deviation beneath the legal minimum than originally claimed.[26]

On January 27, an anonymous league source stated that the investigation was focusing on a Patriots locker room attendant who was seen on surveillance video taking the 24 game footballs (12 from each team) into a restroom for approximately 90 seconds. This video was provided to the NFL by the New England Patriots the day after the 45-7 Patriots victory.[27]

Dean Blandino, NFL head of officiating, confirmed on January 29 that the NFL does not log the exact pressure of each football so they would be unable to determine if they were slightly or significantly under-inflated.[28] In the same news conference, referee Bill Vinovich said
We test them. It's 12.5 to 13.5. We put 13 in every ball. ... Dean tested a couple in the office and had one underinflated and one to specs, and you really couldn't tell the difference unless you actually sat there and tried to squeeze the thing or did some extraordinary thing. If someone just tossed you the ball, especially in 20 degree weather, you're going to pretty much play with the ball. They are going to be hard. You're not going to notice the difference.[29]

Additional details released by the NFL on February 1 confirmed that only the intercepted ball was deflated by two psi, and that many balls were under inflated by "just a few ticks".[13]

The investigation also found that officials noticed during the game that a game ball was missing, and two different officials handed replacement balls to a Patriots equipment manager. One of those officials was found to have been selling game balls for personal profit, and was fired by the NFL.[citation needed]

Origin of the investigation

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, speaking at the 2015 NFL Combine, stated that "prior to the AFC Championship Game, we notified the league about our concerns that the Patriots might be using under-inflated footballs".[30] According to the NFL’s investigation, “Grigson, Sullivan, and other members of the Colts equipment staff referenced the Colts Week 11 game against the Patriots in Indianapolis. During that game, Colts strong safety Mike Adams intercepted two passes thrown by Tom Brady… the intercepted footballs appeared to be coated in a tacky substance and seemed spongy or soft when squeezed.”[21]:46 A New York Post article noted that Grigson's claim implied that the NFL had advance knowledge of the issue and was trying to run a sting operation, contradicting Dean Blandino's claim that it was an issue that "came up in the first half",[30] The claim also contradicts NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent's statement that Grigson notified the league "during the second quarter of the game".[31]

Wells Report

On May 6, the NFL published a 243-page investigative report regarding the deflation of footballs used in the AFC Championship game.[21] This report is known as the Wells Report,[32] named for its leading author, attorney Theodore V. Wells, Jr., of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The investigation concluded that it was "more probable than not" that New England Patriots equipment personnel were deliberately circumventing the rules.[21]:122 Further, Brady was implicated as it being more probable than not that he was aware of the deflation.[21]:122 The report further stated that Belichick and other members of the coaching staff were not involved in the situation.[21]:122 The report focuses on the communications and actions of locker-room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski. The report concludes it was “more probable than not” that the two deliberately released air from Patriot game balls after they were tested by game officials. In several texts between Jastremski and McNally, the two mention and joke about inflation, deflation, needles, and gifts from Tom Brady to McNally. Tom Brady was a constant reference point in these discussions. McNally referred to himself as "the deflator" in a text message to Jastremski as far back as May 2014.[21]:75

Scientific analysis was performed by Exponent and supported by Dr. Daniel Marlow, a professor of Physics at Princeton University. This analysis concluded that within the range of game conditions and circumstances studied, no set of environmental or physical factors could account for the loss of air pressure exhibited by the Patriots game balls. The scientific study supported the report's conclusion that the loss of air pressure may be accounted for by human intervention.[21]:130–31

On May 7, when asked to comment on the report, Brady stated that he had no reaction since the report was 30 hours old, he was still "digesting the report", and he hoped to comment more fully in the future.[33] He also referred back to owner Robert Kraft's comments following the release of the report.[34] Brady's agent Don Yee criticized the report stating investigators jumped to conclusions.[35]

On May 12, lead author Ted Wells defended the report, indicating text messages between Patriots game-day employees Jim McNally and Jeff Jastremski about Brady were more than circumstantial evidence to implicate Brady.[36]

On May 14, attorney Daniel L. Goldberg prepared a document refuting specific charges made in the Wells Report,[37] citing a scientist, Roderick MacKinnon, who has financial ties to Robert Kraft.[38] Goldberg has represented the Patriots and was present during all of the interviews of Patriots personnel conducted at Gillette Stadium.[39]

Media coverage

Media reaction to the incident was extremely strong.[according to whom?] Factors that may have helped fuel media interest[according to whom?] in the incident include:

  • The 2007 Spygate incident, in which the Patriots were sanctioned for having a video camera in an unapproved location filming an opponent's defensive signals during a game in violation of a memo that was sent to the NFL teams.[40]
  • A series of unrelated but embarrassing player incidents earlier in the season, with Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend unconscious and Adrian Peterson whipping his child, and the media's focus on the reaction by the league.[41]
  • The two week hiatus between championship games and the Super Bowl creates natural pressure on sports journalists writing on the NFL to "fill the void".[42]

Before the investigation had concluded, several media outlets called for Belichick—or even the entire Patriots team—to be banned from Super Bowl XLIX.[43][44] Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports strongly criticized the league for deferring much of the investigation until after the Super Bowl so as not to interfere with the Patriots' preparations.[45] Former quarterback Troy Aikman claimed that Deflategate was worse than Bountygate, and that Belichick should receive a harsher penalty than the one-year suspension New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton received in the latter.[46] Other voices in the press, meanwhile, considered it a "phony scandal",[47] or "the dumbest sports scandal ever",[48] and accused the media generally of overhyping the issue.[49]

The strength of the media reaction to the incident contrasts with the very superficial coverage that media outlets gave to allegations of prohibited texts sent by Cleveland Browns staff,[50] or that the Atlanta Falcons may have secured an unfair advantage by piping in artificial crowd noise during opponent's offensive snaps, even though some argued that if the accusations were true, "that's a far more serious offense than any deflated footballs could possibly be".[51] However, the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons stories were arguably less newsworthy[according to whom?] as the Browns and Falcons admitted wrongdoing almost immediately and neither team had made the playoffs. In November 2014, the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers were caught on film using sideline heaters to warm the footballs during the game in violation of league policies,[52] but no penalties were issued in that case and the media reaction was superficial.[citation needed]

The controversy was not only the dominant topic in the build-up to the Super Bowl, but was discussed beyond sports media. National Review[53] and Rush Limbaugh provided social commentary.[54] Limbaugh and fellow talk host Mark Levin compared the amount of attention devoted to the controversy with the amount devoted to the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the change of government in Yemen, to comment on the priorities of the American public.[citation needed]

On January 24, 2015, Saturday Night Live satirized the scandal in a cold open sketch with Beck Bennett as Bill Belichick and Taran Killam as Tom Brady.[55]

"K" Ball issues

On February 17, 2015, ESPN reporter Kelly Naqi reported that a Patriots ball attendant, Jim McNally, had tried "to introduce an unauthorized football"—lacking the markings found on approved footballs—into the game during the first half.[56] That initial report did not indicate why or exactly when this happened, but did state that Kensil went to the officials' locker room at halftime to inspect the game balls, "in part because of the suspicions McNally's actions raised." Naqi later led a report on ESPN's program Outside the Lines, in which she interviewed an Indianapolis-based ex-referee who claimed that NFL officials had been "aware" of McNally for years and had raised concerns about him. This football was a "'K' ball", one of the footballs used for special teams plays.

Naqi's report was immediately contradicted by another ESPN reporter, Adam Schefter.[57] Schefter's report cited sources stating that a "K" ball had gone missing, and that an NFL employee in charge of collecting game footballs for charity had handed the unmarked ball to McNally. Those sources also claimed that that NFL employee was fired after the game, as he had been taking footballs intended for charity and selling them at a profit "over a period of time".[58]

Aftermath

On May 11, 2015, the NFL announced that it has suspended Tom Brady without pay for four games of the upcoming season. The Patriots will also be fined $1 million and lose their first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. The NFL also announced a three-day appeal deadline for charges against Brady specifically according to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, and a deadline of May 21 for charges against the team.[59] Brady's agent indicated the suspension will be appealed.[60] The Patriots suspended James McNally and John Jastremski indefinitely on May 6, with the NFL indicating that the pair could not be rehired without the league's approval.[61] Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement stating the punishment "far exceeded" reasonable expectation, was based on circumstantial evidence, and that Tom Brady had his unconditional support.[62]

Commentary on the initial punishment was mixed. Bleacher Report referred to the penalties as "brutal".[63] Various commentators also inferred that the prior reputation of the Patriots organization as a team that bends rules appeared to factor into the harshness of the punishment.[63][64] Others described the punishment as "firm but fair".[65]

On May 14, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) filed an appeal of Tom Brady's four-game suspension.[66] The NFL also announced Roger Goodell will preside over Brady's appeal, despite objections from the NFLPA, which requested a neutral arbitrator.[67]

On May 19, Robert Kraft told media at an NFL Owners meeting that he does not plan on appealing the penalties imposed on the team. This will not impact the NFLPA's appeal on behalf of Brady. Also, Patriots fans held a free Brady rally at Gillette stadium on May 26, 2015. [68][69]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Ballghazi News, Video and Gossip". Deadspin. April 12, 2015. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  2. ^ Farhi, Paul (January 27, 2015). "DeflateGate ... or Ballghazi? Will the new scandal suffix have staying power?". Washington Post. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Official Playing Rules of the National Football League – Rule 2-1" (PDF). National Football League. October 25, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  4. ^ Rakov, Abe (November 28, 2006). "Brady, Manning convince NFL to allow offenses to use own footballs on the road". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  5. ^ Manfred, Tony (January 21, 2015). "Why Using Deflated Footballs Gave The Patriots A Huge Advantage". Business Insider. Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  6. ^ "NFL was ready to check New England Patriots' footballs against Colts, report says - Newsday". Newsday. Retrieved May 6, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Report: Colts Raised Concerns About Under-Inflated Balls After Game vs. Patriots in Indianapolis". Boston.com. Retrieved May 6, 2015. 
  8. ^ Hensley, Jamison (February 1, 2015). "Ravens didn't tip off Colts about PSIs". ESPN. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  9. ^ Weinfuss, Josh (January 22, 2015). "D'Qwell Jackson didn't notice weight". ESPN.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  10. ^ Darlington, Jeff (January 22, 2015). "Colts' D'Qwell Jackson: I didn't know football had less pressure". National Football League. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  11. ^ Travis Durkee (January 21, 2015). "Ex-NFL referee: All 12 Patriot footballs were underinflated". Sporting News. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  12. ^ Dubin, Jared (January 20, 2015). "Report: NFL finds 11 footballs were under-inflated in AFC title game". CBSSports.com. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Rapoport, Ian (February 1, 2015). "More details on the investigation of Patriots' deflated footballs". NFL.com. Retrieved February 2, 2015. 
  14. ^ Howe, Jeff (January 29, 2015). "Dean Blandino: Referee doesn't document football PSI levels". Boston Herald. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  15. ^ Mortensen, Chris (January 21, 2015). "11 of 12 Pats footballs underinflated". ESPN.com. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  16. ^ Schwab, Frank (January 20, 2015). "How did Colts know Patriots' balls weren't inflated? And Gronk takes blame". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Deflate-gate: Bill Belichick says Patriots have followed every rule". BBC Sport. January 24, 2015. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  18. ^ "NFL Game Center". National Football League. January 18, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2015. 
  19. ^ McLaughlin, Eliott (January 23, 2015). "What the heck is Deflategate anyway?". CNN. Retrieved January 23, 2015. 
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  21. ^ a b c d e f g h Wells Jr., Theodore V. (May 6, 2015). "INVESTIGATIVE REPORT CONCERNING FOOTBALLS USED DURING THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME ON JANUARY 18, 2015" (PDF). National Football League. Retrieved May 7, 2015. 
  22. ^ a b Pepin, Matt (January 22, 2015). "Bill Belichick says he has ‘no explanation’ for Deflategate". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 22, 2015. 
  23. ^ Meghan Keneally; Susanna Kim; Aaron Katersky (January 19, 2015). "Deflate-Gate: New England Patriots Coach Says Team Will Cooperate With Probers". ABC News. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
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  25. ^ "Tom Brady: Press Conference - YouTube". YouTube. 
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  27. ^ "NFL looking at Patriots attendant". ESPN.com. January 27, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  28. ^ Smith, Michael David (January 29, 2015). "NFL didn’t log the PSI of each Patriots football". NBC Sports. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  29. ^ Reiss, Mike (January 29, 2015). "Learning more on how referees test and document football air pressure". ESPN. Retrieved February 2, 2015. 
  30. ^ a b Hubbuch, Bart (February 20, 2015). "There’s a glaring contradiction in NFL’s Deflategate timeline". New York Post. Retrieved April 13, 2015. 
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  32. ^ The report is officially entitled Investigative Report Concerning Footballs Used During the AFC Championship Game on January 18, 2015.
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  36. ^ "Ted Wells sure of Tom Brady's guilt, defends integrity of report". 
  37. ^ "The Wells Report in Context". 
  38. ^ "Patriots’ Deflategate rebuttal included scientist with financial ties to owner Bob Kraft". 
  39. ^ "The Patriots made a truther website about the Wells Report". 
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  41. ^ Rupert Cornwell (January 23, 2015). "Deflategate: Soft balls causing a feeling of deflation before Super Bowl". The Independent. Retrieved February 27, 2015. 
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  43. ^ Paul Newberry. "Deflategate should keep Belichick out of Super Bowl". Retrieved February 4, 2015.  Maury Brown (January 21, 2015). "Should Bill Belichick Be Suspended For The Super Bowl Over Deflate-Gate?". Forbes.com. 
  44. ^ Roxanne Jones (January 23, 2015). "Throw the Patriots out of the Super Bowl". CNN.com. 
  45. ^ Dan Wetzel (January 22, 2015). "Most troubling news out of Tom Brady's deflate-gate comments: NFL hasn't talked to QB". Yahoo! Sports. 
  46. ^ "Aikman: Patriots' punishment should exceed Saints' in bounty scandal". 
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  50. ^ "Browns GM Ray Farmer apologizes for 'Textgate' controversy". Sports Illustrated. February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015. 
  51. ^ Jay Busbee (February 3, 2015). "Falcons' Arthur Blank on crowd noise: 'What we've done ... is wrong'". Yahoo! Sports. 
  52. ^ "NFL to remind teams not to warm footballs". 
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  54. ^ Rush Limbaugh (January 21, 2015). "The NFL's Big Ball Problem". rushlimbaugh.com. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  55. ^ Schwartz, Nick (January 25, 2015). "'Saturday Night Live' spoofs Deflategate". For The Win (USA Today Sports). 
  56. ^ Naqi, Kelly (February 17, 2015). "Patriots locker room attendant tried to put unapproved ball into AFC final". ESPN.com. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  57. ^ "NFL official fired for stealing AFC Championship football". Youtube. February 18, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  58. ^ "NFL employee handed kicking game ball to Patriots' locker room attendant". February 18, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  59. ^ Rosenthal, Gregg (May 11, 2015). "Brady suspended 4 games; Patriots forfeit 2016 first rounder". National Football League. Retrieved May 11, 2015. 
  60. ^ "Brady to appeal suspension; Agent calls discipline 'ridiculous'". wcvb.com. May 11, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015. 
  61. ^ Gantt, Darin (May 11, 2015). "The Deflator, Pats equipment assistant suspended indefinitely". NBC Sports. Retrieved May 11, 2015. 
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  63. ^ a b Mike Freeman (11 May 2015). "NFL Deflategate Message: No Player Is Above the Rules, Not Even Tom Brady". Bleacher Report. 
  64. ^ Eric Adelson (11 May 2015). "Tom Brady allowed the new NFL Way to smack Patriot Way in stunning fashion". Yahoo! Sports. Somewhere along the line, the debate over what happened in the hours and minutes leading up to the AFC championship game in January went beyond air pressure and weather conditions, and became a referendum on the character of Tom Brady and his franchise. 
  65. ^ O'Connor, Ian. "Tom Brady should skip appeal, tell truth now". ESPN.com. ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  66. ^ "NFLPA appeals Patriots QB Tom Brady's four-game suspension". ESPN.com. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  67. ^ Lindsay H. Jones. "Roger Goodell to preside over Tom Brady's appeal of Deflategate suspension". USAToday.com. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  68. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/kraft-patriots-won-appeal-deflategate-penalties-article-1.2228009
  69. ^ Reiss, Mike (19 May 2015). "Robert Kraft: Patriots won't appeal Deflategate punishment". ESPN.com. ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 25 May 2015.