Appearing on the first episode of Bill Simmons’ new HBO talk show a couple months ago, Ben Affleck turned heads with his (probably) drunken tirade on Deflategate, which he so eloquently called “the ultimate bulls–t f—ing outrage in sports, ever.” Now, if I were Batman I hope I would have argued my point more eloquently, but I can’t say that I disagree with Affleck on the principle of the thing. Deflategate is and has always been an utterly ridiculous controversy.
One of the most fundamentally misunderstood things about this ongoing saga is that it is no longer about deflating footballs, if it was ever really about that in the first place.
Deflategate is at this stage more an issue of labor over commissioner Roger Goodell’s right to suspend his players with impunity. Remember that no wrongdoing has ever been proven on Brady’s part; that the NFL-sanctioned “Wells Report” into the incident was criticized by dozens of impartial observers for, among other things, ignoring the Ideal Gas Law, which would account for the balls’ decrease in pressure due to the cold air on the night of the game in question; that Brady was under no obligation to hand over his phone to league authorities and cited his fear of having information leaked as his reasoning for destroying the phone (a perfectly justified fear given the NFL’s history of leaks and that they actually leaked to the media that he destroyed the phone!); that federal district court judge Richard Berman originally overturned the suspension, criticizing Goodell for dispensing “his own brand of personal justice.”
The fact that the suspension is happening anyway is just Goodell’s way of showing the Patriots and the rest of the league that he is not to be trifled with, that his jurisdiction over league matters is unlimited.
I can’t really blame Goodell for wanting to establish his authority, and if people were just honest about his intentions to become a virtual dictator over the NFL, perhaps I could better understand their support of Brady’s suspension.
When the league maintains that they are acting in the interest of upholding the integrity of the game, however, and members of the sports media continue to back up such a ridiculous claim, all credibility is lost. After all, given the sort of lenient punishments that have been given out to stars for high-profile cases of domestic abuse, it seems rather contradictory for Goodell to claim that he cares more than anything for a clean public image.
And as for competitive advantage, if anybody really believes that lowering the PSI of a football by 1 or 2 pounds makes a huge deal to professional players, I would ask them to have their head examined and maybe actually throw a football around once in awhile. Besides, if Goodell really cared about the competitive product his league is putting out there, he would institute harsher penalties and testing for PEDs, instead of having one of the most lax screening systems in American sports.
The truth is that I’m not sure Deflategate has ever been about what happened on the field during the 2014 AFC Championship game. What it’s always been about for the media and casual fans is good old-fashioned jealousy, the bitterness of a legion of football fans who can’t stand to watch such a sustained run of excellence in a sport in which parity is supposed to be king.
Watching Brady and Belichick appear atop the standings year after year, smashing records and appearing almost too fairytale perfect to be real, naturally engenders some resentment.
You might call me somewhat of a conspiracy theorist because in addition to being the proving ground for Goodell’s increased authority, I maintain that this entire controversy was fabricated to draw attention away from the real scandals the league was facing, namely PED use, domestic abuse run rampant, and most significantly, the growing concerns about concussions and brain damage.
The latter issue in particular could be absolutely devastating to the future of the league and the NFL has so far done everything in its power to tell the public that it’s not a big deal, from repressing research on the subject to convincing the public that it is preventable big hits that are the biggest factor in causing CTE, and not the countless smaller impacts that are inevitable over the course of a career playing football.
It would not be out of character for the NFL to try to draw public attention elsewhere and there is no easier target than the New England Patriots. And so they managed to convince the world that a couple insubstantially deflated footballs are significant to the outcome of a football game, and that one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game is a criminal mastermind.
Are people ever going to wake up and start caring about what actually matters in football? I don’t know. But at the very least, I can’t wait to see Goodell’s face when Brady is hoisting the Lombardi trophy again this February.