Circumstantial evidence can be very good evidence. As long as the circumstances can be properly determined.
When it comes to #DeflateGate, the NFL has no record of the air pressure of the footballs measured before the AFC title game began. Which makes it very difficult to determine with precision the amount of air lost, either through Mother Nature or foul play. Which makes it much harder for the NFL to satisfy the expectations of Patriots owner Robert Kraft that any wrongdoing be proven with hard evidence and not circumstantial proof.
It’s now clear that there are plenty of things not readily known about the process, including the question of whether the NFL has a history of testing footballs at halftime of games, in order to check whether air pressure has been lost during the first two quarters.
Asked at the Friday press conference by Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com regarding whether halftime testing has occurred in the past, Commissioner Roger Goodell provided a surprising response.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Goodell said. “That would be something, I presume, that Ted Wells would look into and will provide that information.”
It’s good that the NFL has involved an independent investigator in this process, but there are certain things that don’t require an independent investigation. Through the normal, reasonable exercise of human curiosity, the Commissioner could have learned in the past two weeks whether footballs have been spot-checked at halftime in the past to assess the impact of external conditions on the internal air pressure. Instead of punting to Wells (whose report likely won’t be released for several weeks), Goodell could have said something like, “I don’t have that information immediately available, but I will obtain it from our football operations department and provide it by the end of the day.”
Either way, it doesn’t require Ted Wells, Robert Mueller, or Inspector Clouseau to answer a simple question about whether the NFL has checked air pressure at halftime in the past. It’s a question that already should have been raised — and resolved — within the walls of 345 Park Avenue, and the man who runs the sport already should know the answer.
Some would suggest that he already does, that the answer is “no,” and that this will make it much harder to prove that the Patriots tampered with the footballs.