There’s a famous Carl Sandburg quote that goes something like this: “If the facts are against you, argue the law, If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”
It’s a great quote but, realistically, it just doesn’t quite fit into today’s culture of spin. That’s because everyone now knows that you don’t have to pound the table. In all arguments — even the most doomed ones — that will be SOME facts that are with you. The key is getting people to believe those facts are more important and more instructive than all the other facts.
Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ruled against Tom Brady’s appeal based mostly on one apparent fact: Brady had destroyed his phone on the same day he met with NFL investigators. The key word there is “destroy.” It means to put an end to the existence of something by damaging or attacking it. In the Goodell ruling, the root word “destroy” was used 17 times. The root word “deflate” was used five.
Goodell does not hide his glee at the discovery of the destroyed phone (as described by the NFL):
“The most significant new information that emerged in connection with the appeal was evidence that on or about March 6, 2015 — the very day that he was interviewed by Mr. (Ted) Wells and his investigative team — Mr. Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone that he had been using since early November 2014, a period that included the AFC Championship Game and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation. … At the time he arranged for its destruction, Mr. Brady knew that Mr. Wells and his team had requested information from that cellphone in connection with their investigation.”
You can almost hear the sinister laughter in the background. The phone destruction (as described by the NFL) caused an immediate and massive backlash against Brady with commentators and analysts and fans across America bashing Brady as a liar, a cheater, a fraud, an incredibly stupid person or some variation of all these things. The phone destruction (as described by the NFL) managed to overpower all, leaving no oxygen for anything else. The phone destruction (as described by the NFL) even left many of Brady’s staunchest supporters demoralized; some suggest that even if Brady didn’t actually cheat, well, he has been outflanked and it is time to give into the NFL’s will for the greater good.
The only real problem with this is simple: The destruction of the phone (as described by the NFL) was NOT why Tom Brady was suspended for four games and branded a cheater. He was supposedly suspended — if I understand this right — for ordering some underling to steal footballs before the AFC Championship Game and deflate them below the NFL’s minimum standard of pounds per square inch. That’s what this is about, right? Did Tom Brady order people to cheat so he could have unsanctioned footballs to use in a playoff game?
Well, what seems to be proven is that Brady likes his footballs at the low end of the NFL’s minimum standard — that’s 12.5 PSI, if you’re scoring at home — and that people around the league noticed his preferences.
What seems to be proven is that Brady has gotten very upset in the past when the footballs felt overinflated to him. There seems to have been one exchange with one of those underlings where a referee overinflated a football to 16 PSI, and Brady lost his mind over it.
What seems to be proven is that the NFL’s crack team of referees did not notice when a Patriots equipment guy took the game footballs into the bathroom for one minute, forty seconds.
What seems to be proven is that when the referees measured the footballs at halftime using two different gauges, they were somewhat underinflated, perhaps more underinflated than natural laws would dictate (though even this seems in dispute).
And … that’s about it. You can, of course, come up with a million possibilities based on these few facts. The mind has no trouble filling in gaps. Maybe Brady could not function unless footballs were well below the league minimum. Maybe he used equipment people the way the Joker used henchmen on the old Batman TV show; telling them “You bring me underinflated footballs or it will be the last thing you ever do.” Maybe he personally concocted an elaborate plan to have the footballs stolen and deflated in the bathroom.
Maybe. You can play with the maybes all day, but here’s the thing. The NFL is a multibillion dollar entity and they have spent quite a lot of money to get beyond the maybes. Instead, here’s what they came up with: Tom Brady destroyed his phone (as described by the NFL).
No, Brady’s phone destruction (as described by the NFL) does not replace any of those maybes with facts. But it does get the mind rolling into more maybes. Maybe there were smoking guns on that phone! Maybe he sent a text saying, “If any of those referees put up a fight, silence them for good!” Maybe he sent one saying, “Meet me in the stadium bathroom, I have a special plan for those footballs!” Maybe he sent one saying, “While those fools chase deflated footballs, we will focus on our true plan: Robbing Fort Knox!”
It is misdirection, right out of the magician’s playbook. The phone destruction is a ruse; Brady had already refused to let the NFL have his phone.Yes, people are upset about that because the NFL (according to the NFL) promised privacy, promised — in the words of Goodell — “very substantial protections … to maintain the privacy of his personal information.” And why wouldn’t he believe them? I mean, it’s not like they leaked untrue information to sway public opinion before the investigation. It’s not like they commissioned an obtuse report with Brady being charged with the high crime of “general awareness.” It’s not like they had the appeal adjudicated by the commissioner, who sure seemed to be leading the charge in the first place. Why in the world would he not want to just have over his phone to these guys?
The NFL wants to make this about a destroyed phone (as described by the NFL) because that’s a fact that they can work with. Now, nobody’s arguing whether or not Tom Brady really cheated. Nobody’s arguing at all, really. Everybody’s talking about just why Tom Brady destroyed his phone (as described by the NFL) and what a moron/cheat/liar he was to do so.
For the record: Brady says his phone broke. But who is going to believe that one, right? Phones don’t break.