As noted last night, the NFL has gotten plenty of things wrong in the #DeflateGate saga. But it has mastered the art and science of public relations.
The league delivered what seemed as of Tuesday afternoon to be the death blow to Brady’s case, at least in the court of public opinion, by declaring in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s 20-page ruling released to the media (curiously, the ruling in the Greg Hardy case that knocked the Commissioner’s punishment from 10 games to four was not released to the media) and in the press release accompanying the ruling that “important new information” was discovered during the appeal process.
“On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, Brady directed that the cell phone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed,” the four-paragraph press release states in paragraph three. “He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone. During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.”
That paragraph evoked a “wow” from anyone who read it. Multiple members of the media declared that the revelation was “shocking.” It galvanized the opinions of those who believe Brady is guilty, and it left those who believe in him with one less reason to believe.
But here’s the biggest flaw of logic in that arguably trumped-up disclosure. If this really was “new information” that Brady concealed during his meeting with Ted Wells (as noted at the bottom of page 12 of the ruling), why didn’t “The Enforcer” attempt to impose greater discipline on Brady than the four-game suspension levied without knowing that he had “destroyed” his cell phone?
Goodell calls the development “very troubling” at page 13 of the ruling, accusing Brady of a “deliberate effort to ensure that investigators would never have access to information he had been asked to produce,” of “conceal[ing] potentially relevant evidence to undermine the investigation,” and of “conceal[ing] for months that he had destroyed the cellphone requested by the investigators.”
In other words, Goodell determined that this new information meant Brady hadn’t simply failed to cooperate with the investigation but that he had affirmatively obstructed it. Which, if true, should have resulted in new and enhanced penalties.
But the 20-page, single-spaced ruling never addresses the obvious consequence to the conclusion that, only five days before the hearing, Brady shot himself in the foot with a smoking gun that proves an intentional effort to hide evidence.
At a minimum, the case should have been immediately remanded to Troy Vincent (or to whoever actually made the original decision) for proceedings aimed at exploring whether Brady’s previously unknown conduct justifies separate discipline. But that didn’t happen, possibly (probably) because a full-blown examination of the issue would have undermined the very useful P.R. message that Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.
Already, Brady has offered an alternative explanation, beyond the one that appeared tucked into footnote 11 on page 12 of the ruling. If the NFL had done what seemed logical and reasonable in light of this brand-new notion that Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone and commissioned a full-blown examination of the issue, the end result may have diluted the P.R. message that rocketed from coast to coast on Tuesday afternoon, on the trail that had been blazed by the seemingly outrageous disclosure from Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday morning that Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.
The league wants us all to believe that. But if the league truly believed it, the league should have done more than simply use it to justify the suspension that already had been imposed.