Before we begin, I just want to address one thing: I know that the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl recently. I really don’t mean to come off as a buzz kill in light of such a joyful occasion. But this is something that needs to be brought to light, for better or worse.
Having said that…let me ask you something.
Has there ever been something that you’ve grown up loving, and then something happened to sour your love for it? Did it change your view to the point of leaving it behind?
That’s the case with me and the National Football League.
When I was a kid, I loved watching NFL games. I remember watching the 2001 AFC Championship Game with my dad when I was 11, when Drew Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVI, which would eventually become the start of a Patriot dynasty. And as time went on, I’d always make it a mission to watch any game I could manage to find. The NFL was my gateway to sports, it’s what started me on my way to getting into leagues like Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. Heck, I probably wouldn’t be into competitive video games if I didn’t get into the NFL.
Recently, however, I honestly couldn’t be bothered to willfully watch an NFL game. And you may be wondering why that is. Is it because I felt like the games were declining in quality? No. Is it because the officiating is usually godawful? No. Is it because there’s too much of the NFL on a week-to-week basis to the point of over saturation? No. So what is it?
You might be reading this and thinking that since I’m from the New England area, I’m just being a salty Patriots fan who was upset that Tom Brady was suspended four games for Deflategate, even after the Patriots pulled off the grandest comeback in NFL history. If that’s the case, I’ll say that you’re half-right. As upsetting and frustrating as the suspension of Brady was, however, what many people don’t realize is that there’s more to it; Brady’s suspension is part of a larger problem that the NFL has.
In short, it’s a matter of trust…or a lack thereof, in the NFL’s case.
The long answer is that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his friends at the NFL’s front office, even if they claim the contrary, have an issue with moral priorities.
It seems like whenever the NFL comes under fire for something that legitimately damages the integrity they so love to bring up, they do next-to-nothing about it. Yet, when it comes to smaller, more minor issues like a rash of locker room bullying or underinflated footballs, they’ll go all-out and spend millions of dollars on investigations.
To get my point across, allow me to explain to you two different cases: The aforementioned Deflategate, and the recent revelation that former New York Giants placekicker Josh Brown abused his ex-wife on several different levels. When you look at the finer details of each case, you will see that not only are both cases poles apart in terms of severity, but when you think more about it, it conveys a chilling message that ultimately makes the NFL look like a league of hypocrites and scumbags.
First, let’s begin with Deflategate. In the wake of the 2014 AFC Conference Championship between the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts two years ago, the former was suspected of tampering footballs and deflating them below the NFL’s 11.5 minimum. What followed was what many consider to be the most outrageous and drawn-out case of “Much Ado about Nothing” in NFL history. While Ted Wells oversaw an investigation at the request of the NFL, there were scientists, professors, and even middle school children that stepped forward and explained that the Ideal Gas Law was the reason why those balls were under the minimum PSI; bear in mind, those balls were subjected to frigid winds and driving rain that evening.
Basically, they all proved that neither the equipment crew nor Brady had anything to do with the balls being under the legal PSI.
Despite that, the infamous Wells Report claimed in May of 2015 that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots’ equipment staff were behind the deflated footballs. As a result, the team was given a doozy of a punishment. They were fined $1,000,000 (lunch money by the wealthy Kraft family’s standards), and stripped of first AND fourth round NFL Draft picks over the next two years. Perhaps the most damning part of the verdict was the fact that Brady was suspended for the first four games without pay for being “generally aware” of the equipment staff’s supposed tampering. Following an appeal by the NFL’s Players Association on Brady’s behalf, the suspension was upheld in July after it was revealed that Brady had destroyed his cellphone as, supposedly, a means of covering his tracks.
The case then went to a legal battle. Richard Berman of the U.S. District Court vacated the suspension just before the beginning of the 2015 NFL season, citing that not only did Brady receive no fair due process, but the NFL had no evidence to actually back up the claims. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the suspension on the grounds that Goodell could handle the punishment as he so desired. Brady ultimately gave up the fight and served his suspension for the first quarter of this most-recent season rather than take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. All of this in spite of the fact that, once again, the NFL had no actual evidence to back up their claims.
Now we come to the Josh Brown case, and this is where you start to see the holes in the NFL’s logic. Shortly after the initial Wells Report verdict (funnily enough), Brown was arrested for assaulting his ex-wife, Molly Brown. As a result, Brown was initially suspended for one game at the start of the 2016 season after a prolonged legal process; while domestic violence incidents among NFL athletes call for a minimum of six games on the first offense (with more being added on in the event of aggravated circumstances), the reason this case yielded only a one game suspension was due to the NFL claiming that they had “insufficient information.”
However, Diana Moskovitz of Deadspin eventually found the Giants’ Pandora’s Box. And the minute it was opened, all Hell broke loose.
On top of the official divorce court records being revealed…the same ones that the NFL claimed that they couldn’t get a hold of…Brown was shown to have been abusing his ex-wife to physical, verbal, and emotional extents as far back as 2009, when she was pregnant with their daughter. He even viewed himself as God and Molly as his slave…which, if you don’t see an issue with, I genuinely don’t know what to tell you.
In addition, Brown was shown to be involved in another incident during the 2016 Pro Bowl, something that had gone unreported up to this point. He had tracked down his ex-wife and the former couple’s children, and pounded on their hotel room door in a drunken rage. It had gotten so out of hand that security for both the NFL and the hotel they were staying at had to step in and move Molly Brown and their children to a different hotel.
Worse still is the fact that not only was the NFL aware of the abuse Brown was dishing out to his ex-wife (including the incident at the Pro Bowl), but Giants owner John Mara was also aware of what was going on. Despite that, Mara signed Brown to a one-year deal that following April, only dropping him when the truth came out later that same year.
Do you see the issue here?
What most people don’t seem to get is that when it comes to off-field issues that actually damage the NFL’s overall integrity, such as domestic violence or DUI, they don’t do much about it. Moreso, they hardly show that they care about those issues; even when they try to show that they care, it doesn’t come off as genuine. They give the offender a slap on the wrist, chastise them, and move on, and that’s at the absolute most. Instead of actually cracking down on those cases, however, they seem content doing the same with what could be argued as minor issues like the Richie Incognito bullying controversy from a few years ago, or Deflategate.
This is why I’m so down on the NFL as of late, and why I’ve chosen not to write about them until now. They’ve raked Tom Brady and the Patriots across the coals when they should’ve been doing the same thing to people like Brown, Greg Hardy, and the man who actually got the NFL to try and take a hard stance on domestic violence in the first place, Ray Rice. They could’ve shown themselves as a league of their word and stand by their own policies, but as the Josh Brown case has so aptly demonstrated, they can’t be bothered.
And to anyone who may think that I approve of the Patriots’ supposedly-shady actions, let me be very clear. Deflating footballs is a scummy move; I’m not saying it isn’t, and the Patriots know that as well as any other team in the league. What I am saying, however, is that Goodell and the rest of the NFL brass have serious morality issues if they feel deflated footballs deserve a longer suspension than a domestic violence case. For that matter, the notion that deflated footballs deserve a suspension at all is suspect. And I understand that the Patriots have gotten themselves in “trouble” in the past with things like Spygate, which was not as big a deal as most like to make it out to be. However, that’s not the point.
The point is that the NFL is being generally stupid when it comes to off-field issues that damage the integrity they’re so gung-ho on protecting. And, as stupid goes, they don’t seem to realize it; either that, or they’re feigning stupidity just so they can keep their cash flow coming in strong.
People like Shannon Sharpe of Fox Sports 1’s Skip and Shannon: Undisputed say that Goodell, instead of handling outside transactions like domestic violence or DUI, should stick to handing out punishments that affect the integrity of the game, such as deflated balls or gambling. I’d be willing to agree with Sharpe’s words if Goodell’s judgment for on-field punishments were any better.
Sadly, that’s not the case.
Consider for a moment that the NFL caught the Minnesota Vikings doctoring footballs on a cold November day in Minneapolis, and all they ever received from the league’s front office was a warning against ball tampering. Adding to that, the league didn’t even bother to look into the reported deflation issues during this past season’s game between the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, which certainly irked Patriot Nation. In both cases, there didn’t seem to be much concern.
And yet the Patriots’ alleged tampering deserves an elaborate investigation? Just because of their past? It’s a wonder Goodell still has his job.
So, in closing, the NFL’s ineptitude on major issues is what has turned me off from them, and the fact that they’d rather tear down their most successful team of the 21st Century instead of focusing on what’s truly hurting their brand doesn’t help at all. They’d rather attempt to slay dragons that were never there instead of going after the ones that exist; it’s startling, appalling, and makes them look bad to those who see with eyes unclouded by Patriot-focused hate. With all of that in mind, the only way I see myself regaining any sort of trust in the league is if Goodell either admits Deflategate was a deliberate sting operation from the get-go, or he steps down as commissioner altogether; in a perfect world, he would do both. But seeing that none of those scenarios are likely to happen any time soon, it’s doubtful I will find myself wanting to watch another NFL game for a while.
But as they say around One Patriot Place: “It is what it is.”
‘Til we meet again,