An NFL employee has been fired for selling game-used footballs without the league's permission, ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio reports.
An earlier report from ESPN's Adam Schefter seemed to indicate that the balls in question were related to the NFL's investigation of the Deflategate controversy, but Florio reports that is not the case.
Instead, according to Florio, an NFL employee named Scott Miller removed a kicking ball from play in the first quarter and the Patriots noticed later that the kicking ball was not the same as the one they began the game with. The Patriots then alerted officials, who attempted to find the ball. Miller later brought the ball back to the field.
It isn't clear whether Miller was fired for this one incident or if the NFL found more instances of him selling footballs for his personal gain, Florio reports. Schefter's report seemed to indicate that there were multiple balls involved.
"There are a few different league officials, according to people I spoke with today, at the game, who handled the footballs," Schefter said on ESPN's Outside the Lines, according to ProFootballTalk. "League employees: League Employee 1, League Employee 2 and League Employee 3, we’ll call them, for lack of a better phrases, whose jobs are to handle the balls on game day. And League Official 1, he’s also supposed to take the balls out of play and then send them off to a charitable endeavor to raise money for a charitable endeavor that the league is embarking upon.
"Only on this day, and since that day, the league has since fired that employee for allegedly selling off some of those footballs on the side. So that employee — League Official 1 — has been fired since the AFC Championship game."
The Most Talked-About Footballs in NFL History
The NFL is investigating whether the Patriots intentionally deflated their footballs during the AFC Championship game. It was originally reported that 11 of the 12 balls were between one and two pounds per square inch under-inflated, but subsequent reports have indicated that only one ball was two PSI under the limit.
ESPN reported Tuesday that a Patriots staffer tried to give an official an unapproved kicking ball during the game in question.
Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann notes that the Patriots could argue the NFL's investigation should be dropped if Schefter's report is accurate.
At a press conference on Jan. 24, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick attributed the low pressure levels of the footballs to atmospheric conditions. Quarterback Tom Brady denied altering the balls "in any way" on Jan. 22. Owner Robert Kraft said at a press conference before the Super Bowl that the league should apologize to his team if the investigation reveals no wrongdoing.
This story has been updated to reflect new information.
- Dan Gartland