The Wells report has been out a week, and the NFL’s punishment is two days old. Time to gather the thoughts of everyone from veteran NFL writers to fans and answer the question: Did the league come down too hard on New England?
Before I get to the real point of the column today—your comments, in depth, on the Tom Brady story—I wanted to spend a few paragraphs on four men who do not have a dog in the fight. I called four of my peers, longtime football writers who have won The Dick McCann Award, for long and meritorious service covering the pro game. I wanted voices of people who were not New Englanders or Hoosiers, or who could not be accused of having any partiality in the sordid fight that is the NFL’s punishment of Brady and the Patriots.
My questions: What do you think of the sanction imposed by the league? And what in this story most sticks out to you as important? Their anwers, in their words, are below.
Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2014 McCann winner)
I thought it was appropriate, considering Brady did not cooperate fully. As for the Patriots, those two employees represent the team, and they conspired to alter the footballs. In light of the Patriots being convicted once before (for Spygate), it upped the ante, as far as I saw, and made this punishment the right thing.
I thought [coach Bill] Belichick should have been punished somehow. The man who supposedly knows everything under his watch knew nothing? I don’t get that. But I thought the Brady punishment was right.
Moving forward, I think the league has to change how the footballs are handled for games. I think the NFL ought to take control of all the footballs, and everybody should have to throw the same ball. Have the league get some volunteers to get the sheen off and both sides play with the same ball. What other sport allows individual players to control the condition of the ball in play?
Vito Stellino, Florida Times Union (1989 McCann winner)
I don’t understand why Belichick wasn’t suspended. Ignorance is not supposed to be an excuse. Roger Goodell suspended Sean Payton, and he tossed Rich McKay off the competition committee for three months. I find it amazing Brady was doing this under his nose and Belichick had no idea. Belichick is accountable for his team. He wasn’t suspended for Spygate, and he skates here? I don’t understand that. With the culture of cheating in New England, did that let Brady think he could get away with it?
I probably would have gone six to eight games for Brady.
Another chapter in the nightmare year of the NFL.
As far as for Goodell, it was a good move.
They’ve got to do something about the balls in the future. Some league official is going to have to make sure nobody walks off with the balls between the time they’re tested and the game starts.
One other thing that bothers me. The Ted Wells report praised the ref, Walt Anderson, for his diligence. Wells praises Anderson, and Anderson lets the balls disappear before the game? That is puzzling. There’s a lot of puzzling things here.
John McClain, Houston Chronicle (2006 McCann winner)
I believe if Brady had come out and said he did it, and taken it all upon himself, it might have been one game. I still believe, after the appeal, he will not be suspended four games. It does not affect my opinion at all that he is one of the four greatest quarterbacks I have ever seen. And I will vote for him on the first ballot for the Hall of Fame. He deserves it.
I thought what the league gave them was harsh. This sets a precedent. Everybody wondered if Goodell would be tough on [Patriots owner Robert] Kraft. It reminded me when you’re a Little League parent, coaching your son, and he does something wrong and you’re going to be tougher on your son than you would be on the other players. Goodell with Kraft, that was like the Little League coach being tougher on his kid. The rest of the league saw it, and it sets a precedent.
Rick Gosselin, Dallas Morning News (2004 McCann winner)
I think Tom’s image has taken a hit. I don’t think it’ll keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but I do think it will jeopardize first ballot. You want the biggest names in the sport to come across as heroes. Tom came across as less than that. I expected four games. If [Cleveland GM] Ray Farmer got four for violating the integrity of the game for texting his coaches during games, Brady has to get four. You’ve got to be consistent. Farmer's actions didn’t cross the white lines. Brady's actions did.
Tom’s image has taken a hit. I don’t think it’ll keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but I do think it will jeopardize first ballot.
I understand the big [sanction] against the team. It was the second offense. If there’s no Spygate, maybe this time it’d be a $100,000 fine and a fourth-round pick.
Now, I think the league will hire yet another person to work at the game, with a regulator to measure the pressure in the balls, and then measure the balls and walk them out to the field.
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Now onto reader reactions on Deflategate and the NFL's punishment of Brady and the Pats...
PUT GOODELL UNDER MICROSCOPE. I think that at the moment we are too focused on the trees—the evidence, the punishment, the crime, etc. But when the dust settles, we will get back to the larger issue: Has the commissioner and the league office been doing a good job of running the league? This whole debacle could have easily been prevented by warning the teams and taking precautions. It is clear that was not done. So the whole league takes a hit. This is what all the owners should be furious about. None of this needed to happen, and the integrity of the game would have been protected and probably enhanced!
The owners need to take a long, hard look at how the front office of the league is being run. It shouldn't be done out of anger on the part of the Patriots, but simply an objective look at the question: Is the league well run? If a coach or GM had the same record of missteps and fumbles as the commissioner, he would have been fired by now. Roger Goodell has established a record of poor judgment. Good judgment is the fundamental criterion for being a league commissioner.
WHERE'S WALT? I am a Patriots fan and do not have a big issue with the suspension of Brady and the penalties against the Patriots. The one thing that I don’t understand is why there is not a penalty for [referee] Walt Anderson. He did not maintain the integrity of the game by his lack of actions. He could have prevented this from ever being such a huge controversy but did nothing. He lost sight of the balls and did nothing. He could have delayed the start of the game, given the Patriots a bench penalty to start the contest, contacted the league office ... but did nothing. He should be suspended for his inaction.
—Ed, Severna Park, Md.
THE DEFINITION OF CHEATING. Punishment was completely appropriate. To the folks who say that there is no hard evidence, there was also no subpoena power. I'm curious about what relevant texts existed, if any, on Brady’s phone. He could have cleared that up right away but chose not to. To the folks who say there was no measurable competitive advantage, I have to then wonder why it was done. If you agree to a rule and then use clandestine methods to not comply with it, that pretty much is the definition of cheating.
—Jerry, San Diego
MARK CUBAN WAS RIGHT. All this Deflategate nonsense goes back to what Mark Cuban said about the NFL: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Regardless of what side you are on, this whole issue was blown way out of proportion because of how big and prevalent the NFL is in our lives. This was shown by the national media and social media outcry following ... underinflated footballs? If a similar scandal happened in another league, it would have been dead before it started.
—Justin R., Los Angeles
CHEATING STARTS IN YOUTH FOOTBALL. What I feel is lost in this case is that cheating is the culture of football, and it starts at the earliest stages. There has always been a badge of honor when you get away with something and it leads to victory on any given Friday/Saturday/Sunday. I played at the Pop Warner, high school and college level (D3) and have also coached for many years in our local Pop Warner program. There are coaches who “bend” the rules to gain a competitive advantage and then stand tall and proud when their 8-year-olds win the division. It continues in high school, where coaches are required to share the most recent game films with the next opponent only to mistakenly send films that are a few years old. And let's not even discuss what happens at the college level. These are just some of the issues I have encountered, and I am confident there are many more. It is depressing to see that the culture is alive and thriving at the highest level.
THE EVIDENCE IS ENOUGH. This is the problem with non-lawyers interpreting a document written by lawyers. First, more probable than not is the definition of preponderance of the evidence , and that IS the standard in civil litigation throughout the country. If it is good enough to win a civil case, it is good enough for this investigation. It is also the standard the players association agreed to. And, circumstantial evidence IS evidence and has always been.
—Robert D. Fox, Esq., Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
IT'S NOT ABOUT CRIME; IT'S ABOUT RESPECT. I put an attendance policy in effect for my small business. All of my employees followed the rules of the new policy except one. He was considered my best employee. I called him into my office, and he said he was only five minutes late and acted as if it was no big deal. No apology, no acceptance of blame. I suspended him two days without pay—not because of the crime, but rather the attitude and lack of respect. Although he was not late after the suspension, his general lack of respect for the rules of the business and his constantly trying to push the limits affected the business as a whole. I let go my most productive employee after the next minor offense. It went much deeper than the offense committed, and my company has never had higher morale.
Bottom line: Sometimes in business the punishment isn't for the crime, it is for the actions that surround it. The Patriots feel like my employee, and I think they deserve the penalty.
GLASS HALF-FULL REACTION. Reaction from an optimistic Patriots fan: 1) Permission to audition Jimmy Garoppolo, which would have been impossible otherwise. 2) A shift in the narrative towards "was this too much of a punishment?" which in a way helps Tom Brady's legacy. 3) Us-against-the-world motivation, which could prevent post-Super Bowl lethargy. 4) Increased emphasis on strengthening defense rather than riding on offense's coattails. 5) Increased emphasis on developing running game. 6) Preservation of Brady's health with simultaneous fueling of his competitiveness. 7) Conclusion of the abstract speculation and the ability to move forward proactively and productively. Am I crazy for honestly thinking all these, or am I just displaying a chronic case of homerism?
—Marcus L., Fordyce, Ark.
MAKE THE PATRIOTS PAY. All one has to do is read the Wells report. There is more than enough damning information there. It was a concerted effort by multiple parties to cheat, and then lie about it to cover it up. That's why the NFL hammered Brady and the Patriots. Did it impact the game against the Colts? Certainly not, but rules are rules, and it's time the Patriots are held accountable for pushing the limits. Just play the damn game right.
SYMPATHY FROM JETS FAN. I'm a Jets fan, and I find this punishment to be far too harsh. I completely understand that Goodell wants to set the precedent that tampering with equipment is unacceptable, but as many people have pointed out, there have been various other recent instances with ramifications nowhere near as harsh. To me, this all comes back to the Ray Rice situation. Goodell completely shanked it, and he's trying to be a tough disciplinarian from here on out.
HAPPY NEW YEA- ... WHOOPS. The NFL has to know that this destroys any positive feelings about the opening night of the new season. Everything else will take a back seat (and I mean back of the bus, not just one row back in a car) to Tom Brady's suspension and the Pats' punishment. After a tumultuous 2014 with Rice, Peterson, etc., 2015 will not be starting out on a positive note.
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