When Tom Brady took the ball in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX — down 10 — he faced insurmountable odds. Looking to write perhaps the most heroic chapter in his Hall-of-Fame career, Brady threw dart after dart against the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense, leading the New England Patriots to their fourth Lombardy trophy in dramatic fashion, beating the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom 28-24.
Despite Brady claiming his third Super Bowl MVP award in six trips, the majority of the headlines prior to the big game and since the celebration have been dominated by “Deflategate.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in 2015, you know the story. After 100 days of an investigation and millions of dollars spent by the NFL, Ted Wells and his investigative team concluded that the Patriots had in fact deflated the footballs prior to the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Furthermore, the infamous Wells Report indicated “it was more probable than not” that Brady was at least “generally aware” of what was going on.
Using the conclusions from the Wells Report, Director of Player Personnel Troy Vincent handed down unprecedented penalties to the Patriots, while suspending Brady the first four games of the 2015-2016 season.
After circumventing the odds on February 1 and further cementing his legacy, Brady is forced to defend his reputation, which officially begins in an appeal hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell Tuesday.
In interest of fairness, this would be a good time to disclose that I have always been a New England supporter and I have followed Brady’s entire career. Therefore, I have actually refrained from writing one word publicly about the situation — until now.
Here is the unequivocal truth: Brady is in a no-win situation.
Let’s begin with some basic facts. The NFL has a rule book and has laid out penalties for breaking certain rules in black and white. The penalty, according the the league, for altering footballs on game day is a $25,000 fine, which is imposed on the team, not the player.
A prime example occurred in a game on November 30 between the Minnesota Vikings and the Carolina Panthers. Both teams competed against each other in 12-degree weather. While the elements were certainly a factor that day, both teams were caught heating up their footballs on the sidelines during the contest, which again is altering game-day footballs.
So what was the penalty imposed by the NFL? A stern warning. Goodell’s office found the situation so mundane, they didn’t even dignify the rule’s violations with a penalty.
A clear violation of game-day policy in one instance and a warning was issued. A suspected violation in the other instance and pandemonium ensued.
Now don’t get me wrong, if Brady and the Patriots broke the rules, then they should face the consequences. However, I expect the evidence to consist of stronger terminology than “probably.”
But like many situations in today’s 24-7 news cycle and social-media driven society, Brady and the Patriots were condemned the moment the first word touched the page.
Innocent until proven guilty is a pipe dream in today’s society. Most people find themselves having to proclaim their innocence while their peers have already found them guilty. So now, Goodell is set to hear the appeal. That’s right, the same person who launched the investigation, collaborated with Vincent on the punishment, and now he is set to hear an appeal to determine if he was wrong.
By a show of hands, who thinks he makes a public statement announcing he was wrong to believe a report that he sanctioned and had the league spend millions of dollars to produce?
So, while the appeal is almost certainly doomed from the onset and the possibility of legal action looms, shouldn’t one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game get the benefit of the doubt? Or is his legacy already tarnished because an investigator said he “probably” knew it was occurring?
Again, to elaborate on the original point, Brady is in a no-win situation.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext. 1930 or on Twitter @crslone.