Spoiler Alert: This probably won’t win me any fans in New Hampshire.
Despite the fact that America has long been perceived as the home of the brave, and land of free enterprise, there have always been three classes: the rich, the elite and the rest of us.
While the rest of us watch the game at home or in a sports bar somewhere, the rich buy their tickets, and sit in their air-conditioned sky boxes with delivered food and drink. The elite, however, are the anointed few who actually get to participate in the game: the owners, players, sports agents, business managers and lawyers.
Football is America’s much adored elite team sport. According to ESPN, “the average price of a [Super Bowl] ticket on the second-hand market was $4,600.” That’s the average. Ticket prices went much higher in the days leading up to a game that garnered $4.5 million per 30-seconds of television commercial air time.
Sadly, with obscene amounts of money on the line, the pressure to succeed is staggering; e.g. Tom Brady, the modern era’s golden boy, lost some of his sheen when the NFL recently announced that he will be forced to sit out one-quarter of next season after an independent investigation ruled that he “was at least generally aware” that the footballs he played with were doctored.
Admittedly, this is a much less egregious offense than Ray Rice who one-punched his then-fiancé-now-wife in a hotel elevator, or Dallas Cowboys Greg Hardy’s domestic abuses; nonetheless the Brady incident is characterized by arguably the biggest no-no in sports: getting caught cheating!
Cheating happens, getting caught is a mortal sin, and future hall-of-famer Tom Brady got caught.
The key finding of independent investigator/attorney Ted Wells and his team:
“…it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules. In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.
“Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls,” (The Wells Report, page 2).
After the report was released, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who had previously said he would “accept any discipline levied by the league,” released his own statement:
“Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”
Tom Brady had an opportunity last week to put forth his own statement, set the record straight, or at the very least, comment on a report that found misconduct. His response:
“I don’t have really any reaction. It’s only been 30 hours and I haven’t had much time to digest it.”
However, Brady’s agent, Donald Yee did have time to digest the report and released his statement. In part, it reads:
“The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis. In my opinion, this outcome was pre-determined; there was no fairness in the Wells investigation whatsoever… We will appeal, and if the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells Report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic.”
Defending the integrity of his report, Ted Wells issued his statement:
“The conclusions in the report represent the independent opinions of me personally and my team. They were not influenced in any way, shape or form by anyone at the league office. I think it is wrong to criticize my independence just because you disagree with my findings.”
The Sporting News reported (May 12) that, “Wells also backed up his findings, saying the text messages between Patriots game-day employees Jim McNally and Jeff Jastremski about Brady were more than circumstantial evidence to implicate Brady.
“The Patriots and Brady, he said, ‘totally cooperated’ with the investigation except in two areas. Wells was denied a second interview with McNally to follow up on McNally calling himself ‘The Deflator’ through another series of texts. As for Brady, he answered every question in a thorough interview process, but refused to give up his cellphone, despite Wells’ team only wanting to see ‘relevant messages.’
“That lack of evidence didn’t ‘undermine the conclusions,’ and Wells also dispelled the notion there was a sting operation in play to trap Brady, but rather the opposite.
“The notion that the people in the league wanted to put some type of hit on the most popular, iconic player, the face of the league, doesn’t make sense,’ Wells said. ‘It is really a ridiculous allegation.’ ”
My reaction to Yee’s allegations: “show us the evidence that Wells and company mishandled the investigation. Show us the evidence that there was some plan in place to trap your client.”
The simple answer is… he can’t because there isn’t any.
For his latest commentary (May 11), New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden contacted an ethicist who observed, “ ‘On the plus side, it was meaningful,’ Ron Katz, the chairman of the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics at Santa Clara University, said in a telephone interview Monday when asked about the punishment.
“Katz said the penalty ‘may have been on the low side of meaningful, but it was not a slap on the wrist.’
“ ‘The main problem with cheating is that those who play by the rules are penalized,’ Katz said, adding, ‘Champions don’t cheat.’ ”
But Rhoden, who suggested an 8-game penalty last week, doesn’t stop there.
“From where I sit, Monday’s penalty was a hard love tap: A billionaire owner loses a million bucks; a 37-year-old quarterback gets to take the first four games of the season off.
“The Colts, who were cheated, get to stew over their 45-7 title game drubbing. The Patriots get to keep their trophy.
“Where’s the justice?”
From where I sit, high in my ethics box, Tom Brady is the Martha Stewart of pro football. Yes, he get’s penalized – sitting out the first 4 games of the season and losing some $2 million. But, just like Stewart, whose primary detention was in her comfy Connecticut home, Brady gets to spend time with his supermodel wife in the “Devil’s Island” confines of New York’s West Village.
For the elite, that’s harsh punishment.
As for Patriots game-day employees John Jastremski and James McNally who actually handled the balls, they’ve been indefinitely suspended without pay by the club. They aren’t allowed to be reinstated without the NFL’s permission, which is probably code for: they’re history.