This is not a pro-Brady article. I hate the Patriots, and I loathe Tom Brady. My childhood was shaped round watching him pick apart my beloved Jets on Sundays and quadrupling the amount of Super Bowl wins the Jets have in their history in a short 13 years. I watched Malcolm Butler haul in the championship-winning interception at Sunset Cantina while wearing my Joe Namath jersey, sulking in my seat while nursing the last remnants of a pitcher, my only consolation. In short, I’m not a Patriots fan, but the entire Deflategate saga was bigger than only the team, the Krafts, or Tom Brady. It was about the NFL.
Professional football has supplanted baseball as America’s pastime in almost every statistical category. Though the modern, post-merger NFL is still almost eighty years younger than the MLB, it already rivals the major European soccer leagues in terms of its power and prestige. Between merchandise sales and its many lucrative television deals, the NFL pulled in approximately $9 billion in 2014 (doubling that of the NBA), all with Commissioner Roger Goodell at the helm. Anybody who’s taken financial accounting with the GOAT that is Professor Bagnani will look at the balance sheet and tell you that the league is killing it right now in terms of profit margins and annual growth. At the same time, however, the hopeful marketing major would cringe at the job Goodell has done in the PR department. The Brady case was just the latest in a series of questionable decisions and public relations failures the NFL has undergone in recent years.
As much as it pains me to say it, Tom Brady is a winner. Four Super Bowl victories over the course of his career, six AFC Championships, ten Pro Bowls. Here’s some more stats to drool over. The guy is the definition of success in a league where a franchise quarterback is the most sought after of all positions, the Holy Grail for a general manager that in some cases is seemingly impossible to find (see: Jets, Bears, Redskins, etc). So if you’re Roger Goodell, how do you wake up one day, look at the report from the Indianapolis Colts about “possible violations regarding the underinflation of footballs,” and consciously make the decision to prosecute the Golden Boy of the league? It’s like Rob Manfred of the MLB going after Derek Jeter last year for using too much pine tar on his bat, or David Stern of the NBA suspending Lebron for 21 games (a quarter of the season) for a minor infraction. Officials in those leagues would laugh at those proposals, noting a very simple idea: you push your winners and break away from your losers, in life, in sports, and in business.
Like his contemporaries Lebron James and Derek Jeter, Brady is a winner both on and off the field as one of the most marketable professional athletes in the world. His repertoire of advertisements includes Ugg and Smart Water and his wife is Gisele Bundchen. Doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve watched him every season in the same division for the past decade and he’s as good as the Massholes in the Gilette parking lot and Southie bars make him out to be. Who else is so universally loved in his city, so much so that someone took the time to draw up a geotag commemorating yesterday’s victory in court? As a league, this is the guy you want to build your product around. Anything that will detract from him should be put aside to heighten his reputation and conversely build up the NFL at the same time.
One would think that with the various problems the NFL has dealt with over the past couple of years that it would be reluctant to pursue a case of this magnitude for the public to scrutinize. The league has been far from the perfect image that they promote, with a myriad of high-profile investigations ranging from Ray Rice to Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin to the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints. My dude Sheldon Richardson, 2013’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, was just suspended for four games for smoking pot (The guy literally could not stop blazing. The NFL caught him four previous times and told him they’d suspend him if he tested positive again. He did). Same thing with Browns’ standout Josh Gordon. Tom Brady is not one of these people. He’s never had a legal problem in his career, nor has he ever been accused of cheating before. He’s a Michigan grad and a family man who embodies the competitor that football owners and fans alike would die for.
After taking two business law classes this week I feel pretty confident saying that the NFL did a horrific job in terms of the litigation-side of this ordeal. As someone who’s benefited from the justice system in the United States (note: never buy liquor from Wegman’s. Ever.), seeing the way the league went about this process was painful. When deciding upon the viability of the case, the league selected what they termed to be an “independent investigator” in Ted Wells to conduct a third-party report on the possible deflation of the game balls by locker room attendants at the request of Brady. What Goodell and his spokespeople didn’t tell the public was that Wells has a long track record of shady practices in his methods that generally tend to give the companies who hire him the result they are looking for. In short, the Wells Report was going to find TB12 responsible regardless all along, despite never finding any concrete proof that he was guilty of tampering with the footballs. Secondly, Goodell then makes the executive decision of naming himself as the arbitrator in settling the sentencing part of the investigation, in essence making himself both the plaintiff and the judge in this case, completely ignoring the agreed upon fact in the new collective bargaining agreement which states that a neutral party must be appointed. In court, the NFL later ceded that Goodell was not a neutral arbitrator and that the punishment dealt to Brady was personally biased by the commissioner. No shit. Not to mention that the deflation of footballs to provide a better grip is a negligible issue. Aaron Rodgers openly admitted that he likes his footballs overinflated, Joe Thomas of the Browns said the infraction was like “Getting stopped for doing 66 in a 65 and receiving the death penalty,” and the overwhelming majority of NFL players in an ESPN poll had no problem with the practice.
After seven months of speculation Tom Brady is free at last and is eligible to play in all four of the games he was originally suspended for. Here’s to another season of hungover Sundays ordering Wings over Brookline and not moving from the futon all day. Rant over. Go Jets