More than three months ago, quarterback Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to its fourth Super Bowl victory. But the celebration came to an abrupt end.
Yesterday, the NFL suspended Brady for four games for his role in a scheme to illegally deflate footballs. The Patriots were fined $1 million and lost a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round selection in 2017 because of the "Deflate" gate scandal.
The punishment was handed down after the NFL released the findings of an investigation into Deflategate led by Ted Wells.
“We reached these decisions after extensive discussion with [NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Troy Vincent and many others,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and the thoroughness and independence of the Wells report.”
The results of the investigation were released last Wednesday. It found that it was "more probably than not" that two Patriots employees — equipment assistant John Jastremski and locker room attendant James McNally — deliberately under inflated footballs used by Brady. The report also said that it was "more probably than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities… involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."
"The report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge," Vincent said yesterday in a letter to Brady.
"Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question.”
Brady didn't comment on the suspension after it was announced. But his agent, Don Yee, fired off a defiant response.
“There is no evidence that Tom directed footballs be set at pressures below the allowable limits,” Yee said. “In fact, the evidence shows Tom clearly emphasized that footballs be set at pressures within the rules. The Wells report presents significant evidence, however, that the N.F.L. lacks standards or protocols with respect to its handling of footballs prior to games; this is not the fault of Tom or the Patriots.”
The Origins of Deflategate
Questions about the air pressure of the footballs used by the Patriots arose during the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January.
In the second quarter, Colts linebacker D'Qwell intercepted a Brady pass. He kept the ball as a memento, but an Indianapolis equipment manager thought the ball felt under inflated. So the team alerted the officiating crew.
When the league looked into the balls used by the Patriots in the game, they found some of the footballs used by the Patriots had less air in them than they should.
Each team gets to use their own set of footballs when on offense. Footballs must be inflated in the range of 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi). Officials check the pressure of the footballs prior to the game. And the footballs used by the Patriots passed that pre-game test. But when they were rechecked after the Colts objected, 10 of the 12 footballs the Patriots used against the Colts were found to be deflated to 11.5 psi.
The controversy followed the Patriots — and the NFL — in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Brady and coach Bill Bellichick both denied having any knowledge of anyone deflating footballs. After a video surfaced of a Patriots staff member leaving a bathroom mid-game with a bag of footballs, the NFL launched an independent investigation.
A Superstar Suspended
Investigators based their conclusions on interviews with Jastremski and McNally, as well as text messages and call records taken from their Patriots-provided cell phones. That evidence showed communication between Jastresmksi and Brady and implied the quarterback asked for footballs to be under inflated.
Jastremski and McNally have been suspended indefinitely.
Brady denied any involvement in Deflategate. But he also was uncooperative with the inquiry, refusing to hand over his phone and other pieces of electronic evidence requested by investigators.
That brought an especially angry response from Vincent yesterday.
"Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football," Vincent said in his letter to Brady. "The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules."
Brady is expected to appeal his suspension. If it stands, he'll miss the first four games of the 2015-16 season, against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Dallas.
Photo: Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated (Brady), Elsa/Getty Images (referee)