The other day, I was talking with a friend about Tom Brady. And here’s what he said:
“I think he probably did something, but the whole thing was stupid.”
At the time, I sort of shrugged it off. I mean, for one thing, he’s right: The whole thing was stupid. For another, I’m no Tom Brady fan. What do I care?
But as time has gone on, I realized that I should have said something else:
I think Tom Brady is unequivocally, unambiguously, thoroughly and 100-percent innocent of any and all charges of deflating footballs in a cheating capacity. I don’t think he ever asked anyone to illegally deflate footballs. I don’t think he wanted footballs inflated below NFL standards. I think the whole thing — every last page of the testimony, every last leak to the media, every text made public, every curious statistic like the one showing the Patriots fumbled less than other teams and every blunder Brady made along the way, like his awkward press conference and the destruction of his phone — was a bunch of phony-baloney nonsense that was either directly or indirectly inspired by a made-up NFL witch hunt. I think he’s entirely innocent.
And let me say two more things:
1. As mentioned, I don’t particularly like Tom Brady, and I have no affinity whatsoever for the Patriots.
2. I believe Spygate was much, much worse than we in the public ever knew and that the Patriots — Brady included — would take any advantage they believed they could get away with. I believe this to be true of most teams and most players at the highest level of sports, but the Patriots in particular.
So why do I believe Tom Brady is unequivocally, unambiguously, thoroughly and 100-percent innocent of any and all charges of deflating footballs?
Because: The NFL spent millions of dollars in a ludicrous star-chamber investigation and, even with that, did not come close to proving it. Not even close. If this was a court of law and the NFL had presented that silly, convoluted, scientifically-challenged case of hearsay and bluster, the jury would have voted “not guilty” before lunch. And the judge would have wondered why everyone’s time needed to be wasted.
Of course, there was no jury here. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has won the right to, more or less, be persecuting attorney, judge, juror and executioner. The shambles that remain of the NFL Players’ Association is not powerful enough to stem his wrecking-ball style of commissioning (or even make football owners give out guaranteed contracts).
And the courts confirmed: It’s Goodell’s world. All the rest of us can do is mock him.
But while Goodell can suspend Brady for four games, while he can fine Brady and the team whatever he wants, while he can take away draft picks and speak piously about how he defended the game from the high crimes of the people breaking the ideal gas law, he should not be allowed to alter reality.
And that’s what he is doing. In sports, every story — even the most convoluted and pointless and absurd story — eventually becomes a one-line item. Take David Ortiz’s positive drug test, to stay in Boston. In 2003, David Ortiz and other baseball players agreed to go through a drug-testing survey to determine just how deep the PED problem went. The players and baseball owners agreed that if more than five percent of the players tested positive, drug testing would automatically begin. The survey showed that 100 or so players did test positive, triggering the automatic drug testing.
The results, of course, were supposed to be anonymous.
A year later, though, the dynamic changed. The tests were seized by federal agents in their pursuit of BALCO. Now the results were in open air. In 2009, the New York Times reported that David Ortiz was among the players who tested positive.
Ortiz — who has never wavered from his statement that he never used steroids — said he immediately tried to find out why he had tested positive. That seems a pretty basic right in America. But in one of the pathetic ironies of baseball’s ham-handed handling of PED use, he was told that they could not tell him … because the results were supposed to be secret.
Ortiz says that one of the legal supplements he was using must have caused the positive test, but he doesn’t know which one. And he readily admits that he, like most baseball players, had grown sloppy and selfish in the way they used supplements — they would use whatever everyone else was using. But since drug testing arrived, Ortiz says that he has been tested dozens and dozens of times, including at home in the Dominican Republic. He has never tested positive since.
So that’s a shortened version of the fuzzy David Ortiz drug story. But do you know what the one-line tag on David Ortiz is? Of course you do:
David Ortiz is a drug cheat.
But, you say, the test was not supposed to determine individual guilt and it was supposed to remain secret.
Too bad. It came out. He is a drug cheat.
But even MLB itself has called into question the results of those tests, pointing out that many were contested by the union … and that the methods used to drug test were not the best ones … and that there were numerous uncertainties and inconsistencies …
Yeah, yeah. Drug cheat.
But Ortiz has vigorously and continuously denied using and has never tested positive again …
They all deny. He figured out a way to beat the tests. Big deal. Cheater.
This is how it shakes out. Ambiguities fade, storylines harden, and eventually even the people who appreciate and embrace nuance often cave in to a “where there is smoke there must be fire” position. When David Ortiz is up for the Hall of Fame in five years, there will be people who will not vote for him (interesting to see how many) because they will say he is a proven drug cheat.
So, for me anyway, it’s important to make this Brady viewpoint very clear: He’s innocent. He’s not partially innocent. He is not someone with a “muddled history.” He is innocent. He was completely and utterly railroaded.
Look, the NFL charged him with breaking a rule NO ONE cared about. The NFL cared so little about air pressure in football that they let teams bring their own footballs, which were barely checked. My guess is if Brady wanted the PSI level of football lowered, he simply could have petitioned the NFL and they would have just lowered it — they just wanted to make footballs comfortable for quarterbacks to throw.
Then, there is no proof at all that Brady ever wanted footballs deflated BELOW the league minimum. We know only that he liked footballs AT the minimum (especially because, as we know, football naturally deflate in cold weather). Even the famed “Deflator” suggested his job was to make sure footballs were not OVERINFLATED.
More, the NFL showed no proof whatsoever that he broke the rule or encouraged anyone else to do it — even in the absurd NFL-commissioned report, Ted Wells could only make the comical charge that “it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of inappropriate activities.” What a sentence. It is more probable than not that Ted Wells was at least generally aware that this charge was full of bleep.
And, finally, as if you need even more, there is only unconvincing proof and basically discredited evidence that the rule was EVEN BROKEN AT ALL. As you might have heard, a seventh-grader basically disproved it.
So, yes, Roger Goodell can suspend Tom Brady for four games. But his stupid and distracting witch hunt should not be allowed to affect the legacy of Tom Brady. We should remember him as one of greatest players in NFL history, no asterisks. Now, Goodell’s legacy … that’s a whole other thing.