I imagine it’s been a tough stretch for the NFL PR team. You’ve got domestic violence issues, increasing awareness of the dangers of concussions, the whole Washington DC team name mess and guys getting arrested for various things every other week. To top it off, you get to deal with Tom Brady’s balls. Deflated game balls, that is.
To recap: The scandal often called, “Deflategate” (or “Ballgahazi) arose from the accusation that the Patriots, more specifically someone acting at Tom Brady’s request, tampered with the footballs used in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts last January. Most balls used by the Patriots were allegedly deflated below the minimum required PSI, presumably to give the quarterback a ball handling advantage. After an investigation, the NFL suspended Tom Brady for four games. Following an internal appeal, the matter was moved to federal court where Judge Richard Berman vacated the suspension, ruling that there was a lack of fairness and due process. The NFL will likely appeal.
From a public relations stand point, the whole mess has been bad for everyone.
I don’t know if Tom Brady ordered the deflation of the balls, but it’s thinkable. It makes more sense than any other explanation I’ve heard. (Bill Belichick’s alternative theory about the temperature causing the balls to deflate was debunked by a more sciencey Bill, Bill Nye.) This is bad news for Brady who has leveraged his All American hero image to gain some lucrative endorsement contracts. Weston Anson, chairman of CONSOR Intellectual Asset Management, says the scandal is lowering the value of both Brady and the team. For Brady, Anson says the number of deals coming to him has been cut by 50%.
The Patriots and Bill Belichick
Unfortunately for the Patriots, this isn’t the first time they’ve been in the news for possibly cheating. In what came to be known as “spygate”, the Patriots were disciplined for videotaping a 2007 regular-season game against the New York Jets from the wrong location. The Patriots and Belichick faced fines and lost their original first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. The team has developed a reputation as one that will do anything to win. It looks like the controversies are far from over. Just last week, the Pittsburg Steelers implied that the Patriots intentionally interfered with communications equipment. It’s unlikely that this series of “gates” will damage the team’s relationship with its biggest fans, but it certainly has not helped with the team’s relationship to the media or the NFL.
The NFL has been roundly criticized, most notably by Judge Berman, for its handling of the investigation. There are those who believe that the outcome was predetermined due to Rodger Goodell’s animus toward Belichick and the Patriots. This comes amid the widespread belief that other disciplinary situations, (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and the New Orleans Saints bounty program) were badly mishandled by the NFL. Following the vacation of Brady’s suspension by the federal court, there have been a number of high profile calls for Goodell to step down.
Football remains America’s favorite and most lucrative sport and that’s unlikely to change any time soon, but headlines that question the integrity of the game and the investigative process can’t be good. A lot more than balls were deflated on January 18th. So too were the reputations of Brady, Belichick, the Patriots and the NFL.