How Could The League And Its Biggest Star Let Deflategate Turn Into This?

By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

This is now about so much more than letting air out of a football.

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As training camps open around the NFL, the league and its reigning champion, the New England Patriots, are engaged in a full-fledged war.

Roger Goodell’s decision to not only uphold Tom Brady’s four-game suspension and then subsequently file a complaint in a New York federal court sent the message to the Patriots that there would be no breaks given to one of the greatest players in league history. Among quarterbacks, it would be difficult to make an argument that Brady is any worse than fourth all-time behind Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning.

Ever since the Deflategate controversy came to light and it was discovered that the Patriots and Brady had been throwing somewhat underinflated footballs, it was unreasonable to believe that Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and the New England organization hadn’t taken a needle and intentionally let air out of the footballs.

If Brady had played it smart, he would have kept his mouth shut on this issue until after the Super Bowl, and then come clean.

That admission would have removed some of the sheen on Brady’s legacy. But it would not have turned him into a cover-up artist and a player who has either hid or destroyed evidence, allegedly, in the face of the NFL’s investigation.

History has shown that the cover-up is regularly far worse than the crime, and it certainly is the case here.

Let’s switch gears for a second and talk about Major League Baseball and cheating. At the Hall of Fame ceremonies Sunday, 300-game winner and pitcher Gaylord Perry sat with his fellow immortals and got an ovation from the crowd at Cooperstown when his name was announced.

Perry was a great pitcher, but he was also the premier spitball pitcher of his day. Perry not only had a reputation for using foreign substances to make his pitches break, drop and dip, he was suspended in 1982 for using a foreign substance and late wrote a book called “Me and the Spitter.”

Perry’s legacy was not ruined by his cheating. In fact, it was enhanced.

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While that doesn’t make it right, the only reason his spitter or greasy pitches were effective is that he was skilled at that aspect of the game. Clearly, other pitchers threw spitters, but none were as effective at it as Perry.

The same holds for Brady. He may have taken some air out of the ball, as the NFL believes, but that’s not why he is a great quarterback. He throws one of the best passes in the game’s history because of his skill, work ethic and talent.

It’s alleged that he committed a transgression that is illegal and therefore cheating, but it’s just a minor enhancement.

At the time the Deflategate scandal broke, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he liked his footballs overinflated. Shouldn’t an investigation commence?

Deflating the football seems does not seem like a major transgression. Is a fine and a suspension deserved? Yes, but it should not destroy a player’s legacy.

But the cover-up is what makes it worse. The Patriots and Brady are still trying to deflect and take the moral high ground. Brady authorized the NFL Players Association to appeal the suspension in federal court.

The NFL wants to make an example of Brady because Commissioner Roger Goodell is coming off a disastrous political year — Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson — and he wants to start the 2015 season on the right foot.

The court of public opinion is largely coming down in favor of the commissioner for upholding the suspension. The Brady backers are smaller in number, but they are loud and vociferous.

Both sides seem willing to go all-out to get the victory, but the NFL and Brady are hurting themselves as the battle grows more intense.

The more Brady stands his ground, the less honorable he looks. The harder the league presses for its punishment, the more it tears down one of its greatest stars.

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This is a no-win situation for both, and it’s likely to get even nastier from this point forward.