New England Patriots personnel likely manipulated the air pressure of the footballs used in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, a report by independent investigator Ted Wells concluded.
The report, released Wednesday, found "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." The report also states that it is probable Tom Brady "was at least generally aware of... the release of air from Patriots game balls."
The report found that officials' locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski "participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee."
The NFL is considering discipline for Brady, McNally and Jastremski, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.
After the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game, New England was accused of playing with balls that were inflated below league requirements. Subsequent investigations found that 11 of the Patriots' 12 footballs were, in fact, under-inflated by two pounds of air (psi), based on league regulations, sparking reaction all across the NFL. It was later revealed that the 12th football was also under-inflated, but by less than two psi.
"When I addressed the media at the Super Bowl on January 26—over 14 weeks ago—I stated that I unconditionally believed that the New England Patriots had done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of the NFL rules and that I was disappointed in the way the league handled the initial investigation," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. "That sentiment has not changed."
The league confirmed that prior to the game, the balls were all tested and found to be of satisfactory inflation, and that the balls were all properly inflated for the second half and remained that way.
At a press conference in January, Brady said he "didn't alter the balls in any way" and "would never have someone do something that was outside the rules."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was shocked to hear about the Deflategate controversy and initially had no explanation for the under-inflated footballs. He later posited that the difference between atmospheric conditions on the field and in the locker room could be to blame. He also floated the idea that rubbing the footballs could alter their pressure levels. Belichick's theories were disputed by representatives from Wilson, the NFL's football manufacturer, and scientist Bill Nye.
"Based on the explanations I have heard and the studies that have been done, I don’t know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definitive evidence," Kraft said in his statement. "[B]ased on what we now know, it is safe to assume that every cold-weather game was played with under inflated footballs."
The league launched the investigation into Deflategate in January and interviewed Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties, as well as New England players after the Super Bowl. The NFL also obtained evidence in the form of video and other electronic information.
Wells's report also found that the Patriots did not deliberately attempt to insert an unapproved kicking ball in the game in question. ESPN reported in February that McNally "tried to give the unapproved football to an alternate official who was in charge of the special teams footballs." While the ball had not been approved by the officials, the report concluded "that the Patriots personnel involved believed the ball to be authentic and appropriate."
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