"I would never do anything to break the rules. I believe in fair play, and I respect the league."
- Tom Brady, Jan. 22, 2015.
What a difference a couple of months make.
The NFL has dropped the hammer on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, suspending the Super Bowl MVP for the first four games of the season (the Eagles don't play the Patriots until week 13). They also came down hard on the team, fining New England $1 million and taking away two draft picks, including a first rounder.
I know a lot of criticism has been leveled at the NFL and 'Deflategate' itself, with supporters of Brady noting what little advantage would have been gained for purposely deflating footballs. When I hear the words "he didn't need to cheat" bandied around, in my mind it always invites the comparison to the actions of one person - Richard Nixon.
During the 1972 presidential election, polls shows that Nixon was going to crush his opponent, Democrat George McGovern. Polls were right - Nixon slaughtered him, winning 96.7 percent of the electoral votes in what became the 4th largest landslide in presidential election history. Ironically, the only state McGovern won in the election was Massachusetts.
So why Watergate? Why did Nixon's people break into McGovern's headquarters when they knew he would win hands down? Not because he needed the break-in in order to win, but because Nixon obsessively feared defeat, and was paranoid that every potential advantage not taken would lead to the downfall of his presidency.
Nixon knew the break-in was wrong, and that voters wouldn't trust him as president if they found out, so he lied and took part in a cover-up to protect his image. Sound like any Patriots quarterback you know?
According to the Wells report, Brady was aware of the inappropriate activities to deflate footballs and then lied about it. He even threw one of his lackeys, Jim McNally, under the bus completely, claiming he didn't even know the man's name or anything about this game-day responsibilities. Thanks to John Jastremski's text messages, we know that was a lie, too.
From the report:
When asked specifically whether he had spoken with Jastremski about McNally on the night of the Jets game, he stated: "I didn't know who Jim McNally was so I find it hard to believe I could bring that up."
He was also uncooperative with Wells, refusing to give over evidence or cell phone messages, which as the NFL's Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of Competitive Rules states, "Failure to cooperate in an investigation shall be considered conduct detrimental to the League and will subject the offending club and responsible individual(s) to appropriate discipline."
So I don't have much sympathy for Brady in all this, especially considering his ball-deflating fall guys were hit with much harsher punishments than the Golden Boy. Brady's just the latest athlete who tried to gain a competitive advantage by running afoul of the rules, and got caught. So in a league that suspends players for beating their wives and smoking weed, suspending a player who possibly, likely cheated seems fair to me.
I mean, the league suspended Ray Farmer four games for texting to the sideline, and suspended Sean Payton a year for Bountygate, even though he didn't even know about it. Hell, even Rich McKay got suspended and lost a draft pick, despite not knowing the Falcons were pumping in artificial crowd noise.
So when NFL vice president and former Eagles star Troy Vincent says to Brady, "You're actions… clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity and public confidence in the game of professional football," I tend to believe him.
The Golden Boy, of course, has one avenue to pursue - tell the truth. Tell his side of the story. Show text messages, notes, anything that makes it clear he wasn't trying to cheat. Stop saying things like, "I don't even respond to stuff like this" and "Oh, God. It's ridiculous!"