- The stunning waste of time known as Deflategate has finally concluded. What lessons did we learn from the saga?
Welcome to Week Under Review, where we discuss hot topics, have some fun and usually introduce new ideas. But not this week…
RIP, you 544-day-long colossal pile of sewage. What started as an argument about the ethics behind a slight disparity in some footballs’ air pressure and quickly turned into arguably the most expensive confirmation of power in modern sports history is over. Tom Brady waved the white flag, surrendered to Roger Goodell and accepted the Second Circuit appellate court’s decision to uphold the power granted to the commissioner by the NFLPA under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement. Welcome to four weeks of Jimmy Garoppolo! (Just to emphasize the NFL’s victory, two of those Brady-less games are in prime time.)
There are a select few high school and college classes you may take that seem like a good idea at the time, or maybe they check a box for graduation. You enter thinking there must be something meaningful to ascertain; otherwise, why would some seemingly brilliant provost make them mandatory? Like Latin or Advanced Geometry or The Culture of the Internet. Unless you plan to time travel to the Roman Empire or embrace vulgarity at its finest, it doesn’t take long to realize how futile these classes truly are. How any other class, or any other activity, for that matter, would have provided more meaning.
This was Deflategate. A stunning waste of time.
Did we learn anything that matters from Deflategate? Mostly no, but here are a few notable exceptions:
The 2011 CBA is so weak from the players’ perspective
Quick: Name any clause from any collective bargaining agreement. Chances are you can only name one off the top of your head, and that’s Article 46 of the NFL-NFLPA’s CBA. Without Article 46, also known as the “Commissioner Discipline” clause, in place as is, Deflategate would likely not have developed into a controversy worthy of a “-gate.” The alternate outcome possibilities are numerous but none end in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The courts confirmed the language in Article 46, which in summary allows the commissioner to arbitrarily dole out punishment, and in the case a player appeals, designate himself the person to hear said appeal. In other words, it allows Goodell a dictatorship.
To be fair, this clause has been around since the first CBA was enacted in 1968. But other commissioners rarely went to that well. Not so for Goodell, who made it very clear in the opening years of his commissionership, which began in 2006, that he was going to double as a law officer, enforcing rules that in many cases he created on the fly. No precedent necessary.
From 1968–2006, there were 31 total personal conduct violations, as documented by Wikipedia. Since ’06, Goodell has issued a whopping 101 conduct violation punishments, 38 of which were doled out prior to the last CBA that was agreed upon on Aug. 4, 2011. (All of these punishments are arbitrary as opposed to substance abuse and PED violations, which come with a determined schedule of fines and suspensions.)
Concessions have to be made in negotiations, but armed with the information at hand that Goodell carries a suspension buzzer with him at all times, it’s unfathomable that the players allowed Article 46 to remain as is in 2011. And because the players sat back, Tom Brady, who may have known about a sliver of released air from his footballs and wouldn’t share his cell phone with the league (and I’m fairly certain he did nothing else), will now miss four games.
Players not named Von Miller will universally tell you that securing as much real guaranteed money as possible is their number one objective when the CBA is up for renewal in 2020, and rightfully so. But they must push back on Article 46 in its current form. Otherwise Deflategate: Part II could happen at any moment, and there’s not a thing they can do about it.
It’s truly all about the Benjamins
Think about this: Goodell made an enemy of one of the league’s most powerful owners, not to mention the league’s most powerful quarterback, and embarrassed the NFL, yet somehow he’s the big winner. The league has grown in revenue every year under Goodell’s watch, and recently surpassed the $13 billion mark. He has been widely successful at his core task, doubling the league’s overall revenue since taking over as commissioner.
Goodell is no different from any CEO tied to his/her company’s stock price. Despite Deflategate, bungling the domestic violence issue and deflecting concussion research, Goodell has layers of job security because there’s only one metric for which he is judged: are the owners getting richer?
Not all courtroom sketch artists are created equal
At an August 2015 hearing that featured Tom Brady and Roger Goodell, sketch artist Jane Rosenberg made Brady, a football player who doubles as a male model, look like Freddy Krueger.
Poor Rosenberg was the recipient of the social media snark choir, but kudos to her for taking it well. She unnecessarily apologized in the midst of a media tour and sweetly told CBS New York, “It’s kind of cute and fun. I’m glad people have time to make it art.” Rosenberg even went on to craft a more favorable sketch of Brady.
We all have our bad days—or acts of vigilantism that last for 544 days—but that first sketch was so stunningly bad that it still pops up in my nightmares from time to time.
Not all legal experts are created equal
I actually hadn’t heard of Michael McCann before Deflategate began 544 days ago. Then I starting reading him as the saga began, then I began working at SI and got to read him first as an editor and was blown away by his ability to explain complex legal arguments in digestible terms without appearing slanted. Other analysts out there were terrific on this case—Steph Stradley and Daniel Wallach come to mind, and there are more—but McCann provided insightful legal analysis every step of the way.
Stay tuned for next week when we get back to real football. The Green Bay Packers open training camp a week from Monday!