After the folks at Hachette foolishly offered me a book deal, my editor, Ben Adams, issued a simple challenge. While piecing together a puzzle of more than 100 controversies, incidents, stories, etc. that taken together tell the story of the NFL as a successful-despite-itself business concern over the past 20 years, try to find some new information that previously hasn’t been reported.
So I did. And it worked, as well as it could for a stream of high-profile stories that were covered extensively as they happened.
Deflategate ended up being fairly fertile ground, to my surprise. As Playmakers reports (and as we strategically released at the start of Super Bowl week because, you know, capitalism), the 2015 air-pressure spot checks performed by the NFL during halftime of various games were permanently expunged at the direction of NFL general counsel Jeff Pash.
The news had the intended reaction, especially in Boston. It tends to vindicate the Patriots, obviously. If the numbers had supported the NFL’s punishment of the team and quarterback Tom Brady, they would have been spoon fed to Schefty five minutes or so before being plastered all over NFL.com. The fact that the numbers never saw the light of day means that a comparison of those numbers to the numbers harvested in Deflategate would have prompted people to say, “Where’s the proof of cheating?”
Then came Wednesday, the occasion of the Commissioner’s annual pre-Super Bowl press conference. Of the various tough questions that the $65 million-per-year pin cushion fielded, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe asked Roger Goodell about our important Deflategate P.S.
“I don’t know what happened to the data, to be honest with you,” Goodell said. “We don’t look back at that. We just make sure there’s no violations. That is the purpose of the spot checks. Are there violations? And if there are violations we need to look into it. But thankfully we did not see any.”
Yes, they saw no violations. They saw no violations because the air pressure inside the balls behaved as it should when the temperature rises (higher pressure) or drops (lower pressure). And the evidence of no violations regarding the spot checks, when compared to the numbers taken from the footballs used by the Patriots during the first half of the 2014 AFC Championship, would have prompted many to conclude that there was no violation there, either.
This doesn’t mean that something fishy wasn’t happening. The text messages exchanged by New England football flunkies Jastremski and McNally were damning. Brady’s explanation for the destruction of his phone was borderline laughable. However, if this was about proof of cheating on the day that the league office decided to swarm over the team’s football, there was no such proof.
The spot checks would have proven that. Thus, the numbers generated by the spot checks were examined, retained for a bit, and then destroyed — despite the fact that there was pending litigation at the time regarding the Brady suspension. (And, yes, this potentially could be characterized as obstruction of justice by an ambitious prosecutor looking to take on Big Shield.)
Maybe Goodell truly doesn’t know “what happened” to the data, in the sense of he doesn’t know whether it was deleted from a hard drive, crushed in a thumb drive, or flushed down a toilet. Regardless, he knows that it’s gone for good. That’s the point.
By saying “I don’t know what happened to the data,” he admitted that it’s gone. It’s gone because they wanted it to be gone. Goodell’s implicit admission to that effect proves that it was affirmatively erased.
Why is it relevant now? It’s relevant because the information about the league deleting the information was published now. And we never would have known about the ultimate vindication of the Patriots as to the 2014 AFC Championship if Ben Adams hadn’t nudged me to find some new information for Playmakers.
So show your appreciation to Ben (and me because, you know, capitalism) by ordering Playmakers, if you haven’t already. And if you already have ordered it, go ahead and order it again. Let the sales be a referendum from the public on how Deflategate was handled. I mean, if it helps moves merchandise, I’ll take it.