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What Deflategate means for Tom Brady’s legacy

An NFL investigation has concluded that the New England Patriots likely deflated footballs used during playoffs before the Super Bowl, violating league rules. Quarterback Tom Brady, who denied knowing how the balls got deflated, was at least “generally aware,” according to the report. Jeffrey Brown discusses the implications with Mike Pesca of Slate's "The Gist" podcast.

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    Deflategate is back.

    It's been three months since the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. But the NFL today released a report on the use of underinflated footballs during the playoffs, and whether the Patriots had an unfair advantage.

    The investigation found Patriots employees likely did deflate footballs used in the team's conference championship win. And the report said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who denied knowing how the footballs got deflated, was probably aware of the rules violation.

    Jeffrey Brown has more.


    The report cites Brady's connection with two Patriots employees and implies he requested footballs below the standard level. And it includes numerous text messages between those employees suggesting that Brady complained about the air pressure in the balls during regular season games.

    This exchange came after a game against the New York Jets in October 2014. We have deleted profanities. A team employee in charge of delivering the footballs texted: "Tom sucks. I'm going make that next ball a balloon."

    An assistant texted back: "Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done."

    With us for more is Mike Pesca, host of the Slate podcast called The Gist — The Gist — excuse me, Mike — and a contributor to NPR.

    So more probable than not, right, that balls were tampered with, Mike, that's the key phrase used here?

    MIKE PESCA, Slate's "The Gist" podcast: Oh, yes.

    And so some people may be dissatisfied with that because it doesn't comport with anything in our legal system, except what was the standard of proof for a report like this? I think any reasonable person would read this and say, yes, seems like Tom Brady did it. The report is showing us that the Patriots pretty much did it. And it really is hard to imagine a way that Tom Brady didn't know about it.

    So I think it's trying to be careful. The language is trying to be as careful and precise as you can. But you can't come away from reading this report with really making any other reasonable conclusion than this was going on and probably, most probably, with Brady's knowledge.


    And the team — just a reminder, the team has said all along that there was — that they did scientific investigations and said the weather had probably caused the changes in the footballs.


    Yes. I mean, there are a couple of explanations, I don't know, or implausible deniability.

    And so this gets to, there's the tittering aspect of it. There's the fact that people love to hate the Patriots. But if you want to be very hard and fast about this, you would say the Patriots cheated and then the Patriots lied. Does that mean that they should get some sort of excessive sanction or excessive punishment?

    They will be punished somehow. They did cheat. They did lie.


    Well, before we get to the punishment, we refer to the Patriots, but this report goes out of its way to say that the coach, Bill Belichick, who is a polarizing figure in himself, he did not seem to know about it, according to this.


    Yes, they couldn't find that he did.

    However, I would point out that there are other situations, not really analogous situations, where the Saints had a bounty program, and even if the head coach didn't know about it, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, came in and said, you know, the head coach should have known about it. He suspended Sean Payton, coach of the Saints, for half-a-year over that.

    And I don't think that is going to happen with Belichick, but the point is, the NFL sometimes holds these coaches to account for everything that goes on under their watch or during their tenure.


    Well, with the focus on Tom Brady then and these other employees and the team as a whole, what kind of discipline may come? We hear it could come within days. What's possible?


    Those employees will have a tough time with their key card swipes and works tomorrow. I think they're just embarrassed. They really criticized the quarterback.

    It seems like Tom Brady wasn't exactly a model citizen or a fellow employee, if you want to look at it that way. I think that there's a chance that Tom Brady will get suspended. Arguing against that, there is less than absolute definitive proof. And also he's a marquee player and it hurts the NFL not to have Tom Brady, Super Bowl-winning quarterback, on the field.

    You could maybe make the case that Belichick could face sanctions. I doubt it. They will pay a fine. There's a minimum $25,000 fine. Maybe they will pay a fine in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They might lose draft picks.


    We did not hear from Tom Brady today. We did hear from Patriots owner Robert Kraft. He's a prominent owner within the league. He is still not buying this at all.


    I don't know what that is. I don't know if that's blindness. I don't know if that's him thinking he has to stick by his employees.

    But, you know, he's doing the — he's doing the thing that sometimes the head of a corporation does, who, you know, disavows any knowledge of it and disputes even what seems to be 243 pages. This was a thorough, thorough report. They have got full records. We're talking about deflated footballs.

    The ratio of scrutiny to actual misdeed probably is off the charts for this. I can't think of anything that was as heavily scrutinized for — we're talking about a couple PSI of pressure. So, I really don't know what leg Robert Kraft has to stand on.


    Right, hundreds of pages in this report.

    So, Mike, the inevitable question, of course, and the debate for sports fan is to what extent this tarnishes the reputation of the team, Super Bowl champion and of course the great career of Tom Brady.


    I think that is like saying, to what extent does shooting people tarnish the legacy of Billy the Kid?

    This is their legacy, right? It's greatness, but it's also going right up to that line, especially Bill Belichick. He is a guy who goes right up to the line. In a couple of cases, he's been shown to cross the line. Maybe he gets criticized more than others, but there are a raft of NFL coaches who do not do what he does. We could bring up past misdeeds, what is called the Spygate story, a lot — the way he handles the injured list.

    He's an opaque character. He's also the best coach in the NFL, the most accomplished current coach in the NFL. Add it together, it's absolutely his legacy.


    And, briefly, Mike, Roger Goodell, the commissioner, will be making this decision, another mark in a sense, or black mark, for the league, which has had a lot of problems.


    Yes, and I think he will welcome the chance to be a hanging judge and a tough fist of justice in a case which, you know, doesn't include things like beating women and doesn't include child abuse.

    This is a funny kind of thing. It was cheating, it was lying, but no one actually physically got hurt. And so Roger Goodell is probably saying, thank God I get to show I'm tough, I get to be the iron fist, and we're really not talking about a transgression that has ramifications for the rest of society, doesn't make us feel bad about ourselves.


    All right, Mike Pesca, thanks so much.


    You're welcome.

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