Author: Dylan Bordonaro
The NFL officially kicked off the regular season Thursday night as the world champion New England Patriots and superstar quarterback Tom Brady defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 in Foxborough, Mass. Brady had an impressive night, completing 25 passes on 32 attempts for 288 yards and four touchdowns. However, the Pro Bowl caliber performance did not come without controversy.
For the majority of the game’s first half, the Steelers’ coaching staff experienced major problems when they lost the ability to communicate with each other via headset. When they would normally hear one another’s voices on their headsets — often calling plays — they were instead forced to listen to the local Patriots radio broadcast.
Unsurprisingly, the Steelers’ supposed technical difficulties in Gillette Stadium were met with suspicion. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was visibly angry on the sidelines, and the Steelers have subsequently filed a complaint with the league. While foul play is unlikely and has been denounced by the NFL, the Patriots have firmly established a pattern of deception under head coach Bill Belichick. Their mendacious history, exacerbated by Commissioner Roger Goodell’s inability to adequately address it, aptly contributes to widespread skepticism.
On Sept. 3, a mere seven days before Thursday’s game, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman lifted Brady’s four game suspension for his role in the Patriot’s “Deflategate” scandal based upon guidelines in the collective bargaining agreement. Goodell is appealing the court’s decision that ultimately allowed Brady to begin the season as the Patriot’s starting quarterback in hopes of regaining the confidence of the league’s owners.
“Deflategate” — not the Patriot’s Super Bowl victory nor even the draft — has ruled sports media for the entire off-season. Many fans, especially those from New England, have argued that punishments handed down by Goodell are gratuitous. Most believe the Patriots did not significantly benefit, if at all, from their use of under-inflated footballs in their 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2015 AFC Championship. But are the Patriots’ punishments really about under-inflated footballs?
Tuesday, two days prior to the season’s kickoff, ESPN published an article over 11,000 words long contributing Goodell’s potentially steep punishment of Brady and the Patriots for “Deflategate” to the leniency shown to Bobby Kraft’s team following the “Spygate” scandal in 2007, in which the Patriots were found guilty of recording other teams’ defensive signals — thereby allowing them to know their opponents’ play calls before the snap. The article’s authors, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, construct a remarkably in-depth narrative detailing years of knowledgeable cheating by Bill Belichick and his staff.
In both instances, the New England Patriots were charged with violating the marquee rule of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, which states that “Everyone who is part of the league should refrain from ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in’ the NFL.”
In his mishandling of “Spygate,” Goodell did not do enough to protect this standard, and he was subsequently challenged by 31 of his bosses (the owners of every team except the Patriots). His reputation has not been improved in the least by his recent handling of “Deflategate.” His slow reaction (in violation of the CBA) combined with the puzzling Wells Report has given Brady stronger legal ground to stand on and undermined the league’s ability to guarantee an equal playing field.
Goodell’s soft punishment of the Patriots for “Spygate” and his failure to use “Deflategate” as the tool for making up for his mistake, especially in comparison to the hefty sanctions handed to the New Orleans Saints for their bounty scandal in 2012, raise the question of Goodell’s trustworthiness and ability to protect the league. Does Goodell report to all 32 of his bosses, or just to Bobby Kraft?
As I argued over seven months ago in my first article for The Occidental Weekly, the NFL’s sole responsibility is to protect itself and its investors. Goodell’s failure to adequately punish Kraft, Belichick and Brady’s cheating has done tremendous damage to the league’s reputation. Fans must be able to trust that the games on the field are legitimate. For such confidence to be restored, the New England Patriots would have to vacate all of their wins since Belichick was hired in 2000, and Super Bowl XLIX would have to be replayed between the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts.
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