More than a year after the initial allegations were risen calling the Patriots cheaters for their role in Deflategate, the conversation is still buzzing. On Monday, April 4 in the Mable Brown Room, people heard about the case from a different, more legal perspective.
Keene State College hosted Michael McCann, a sports law attorney who teaches at the University of New Hampshire. McCann, who teaches an undergraduate course on Deflategate, went through a timeline of the proceedings, adding in commentary which would reinforce the beliefs of loyal Patriots fans, and convincing unbiased attendees to sway in that direction as well.
For those who are unaware, Deflategate refers to a series of events occurring during and months following the New England Patriots 2015 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Allegations rose during and after the game that the Patriots’ footballs were under the NFL’s threshold of inflation. An investigation quickly ensued, focusing mainly on the team’s quarterback and worldwide celebrity Tom Brady and his role in the scandal. The situation lead to nonstop media coverage and an eventual four-game suspension handed down against Brady, a $1 million dollar fine enforced on the Patriots, and the stripping of two draft picks over the course of the next two seasons. Brady would later appeal the ruling and lose before the case was taken to the U.S. District Court in New York where it was subsequently overturned.
However, McCann said that there were some questionable methods that the NFL used in order to find Brady guilty of having a role in the tampering of the footballs. It was later found that there was inaccuracy by the media while reporting the findings and investigation. In addition, the findings of the controversial Wells Report raises questions of its own. David Wells, who was hired by the NFL to conduct an ‘independent investigation” (McCann used air quotes while he said this). Wells said in his report that it was more likely than not (which, according to McCann, means that Brady, based on the evidence, participated in the behavior in question) that Brady was generally aware of the alleged wrongdoing by the equipment managers. “General awareness… that could mean whatever you want it to mean,” McCann said.
In addition, upon appeal and arbitration of the ruling, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as he has with all other appeals during his tenure as Commissioner, named himself as arbitrator of the appeal which was a large factor, arguably making him nonobjective during the appeal, something that is nearly unheard of anywhere else according to McCann. This was a large reason why Judge Richard Berman of the U.S. District Court overturned Goodell’s ruling. Along with Goodell’s unwillingness to turn over evidence to Brady’s council.
“It was pretty clear early on that Judge Berman had reservations about the NFL’s case,” McCann said. Noting not only the appeals process but also the circumstantial evidence leading up to it that led to the original ruling, such as the “Deflator” text, and the actual cause of the deflation and if it was caused by an equipment manager in a bathroom or by the cold weather during the game.
That’s not to say that Brady did everything right. According to McCann, Brady was not legally required to hand over the infamous cellphone, and his comments during a press conference where he stated that he didn’t think that he cheated, rather than saying he didn’t cheat. Brady also did not have proper council during the investigative process and interviews present and destroyed his cellphone that he was using at the time of the AFC championship game.
“….but even though he destroyed the phone, what was on the the phone that the NFL didn’t have?”, McCann said.
McCann noted that the league was already in possession of the phones of a number of different Patriots officials and the two equipment managers, which would’ve contained texts sent by Brady anyway. Brady also turned over phone records showing when and who he called and texted anyone.
McCann, who has written hundreds of articles for Sports Illustrated regarding legal topics surrounding almost all popular American sports, said that the process of investigation and discipline in the NFL is unlike any other. Comparing the NFL’s disciplinary process with that of the National Basketball Association in the area of allowing the process to be upfront and fair.
“I think they lag behind, look at the NBA… they’re all about transparency.”
For Patriots fans alike, the speech only reaffirmed suspicions of ulterior motives. Andy Haddan said after the talk that the situation seems personal.
“It certainly seems like someone’s got it out for Brady. There’s no proof [that he was involved].
McCann thinks otherwise.
“I think that Rodger Goodell genuinely believes that the Patriots did it,” McCann said.
Furthermore, those who claim to have had little knowledge of Deflatgate or football coming in to the talk said that they were inclined to side with the Patriots.
“It showed me that it was more than he cheated or he did it. I don’t think that Tom Brady had anything to do with it,” first-year student Kelly Gordon said.
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