Who, me?

Photographer: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Brady May Pay for Deflategate But Patriots Won't

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
Read More.
a | A

The "-gate" suffix denoting public scandals is wildly overused, but in the case of the New England Patriots, it might actually be rather apt. As with the original Watergate, the attempted cover-up of Deflategate is much worse than the crime itself.

Independent investigator Ted Wells released his report today on accusations that the Patriots deflated footballs beyond regulation air pressure in games including the AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts. The 243-page report concluded that "it is more probable than not" that Patriots staff members did so to quarterback Tom Brady's liking and that Brady knew about it. The report found no evidence that head coach Bill Belichick or owner Robert Kraft were involved.

As I've written before, it's an unspoken understanding in football that ball tampering occurs --  to make them more comfortable to grip -- but its impact on a game's outcome is thought to be rather minimal. In that respect, the actual offense doesn't reach the level of cheating we've seen before, including the Patriots' other big scandal, Spygate. It's a bit of a stretch that the Patriots wouldn't have won the AFC Championship, or the Super Bowl for that matter, with properly inflated footballs.

This does, however, put a slight dent in Brady's armor -- overreaction or not, it will inevitably raise doubt in any conversations about the Greatest of All Time. It's also not great for his carefully tailored image. Brady comes across looking even worse than he did in his Deflategate press conference, now that we are relatively certain he was lying in public while behind the scenes trying to assuage the fears of the equipment personnel worried about losing their jobs. And it's easy to glean from text messages among the two staffers involved that Brady isn't particularly liked by some employees lower on the Patriots' totem pole. All told, Deflategate might force Brady to finally ditch the Uggs

It also supports the notion that there's a "culture of cheating" in New England, a feeling of infallibility that likely stems from the enormous influence of their owner within the league. In response to the report, Kraft continued to express his disappointment with the NFL and criticized what he deems the "inferences from circumstantial evidence" in Wells's conclusions. In light of a second cheating scandal showing that the team learned nothing from the first, the most powerful owner in the NFL, the one most firmly planted in Commissioner Roger Goodell's inner circle, didn't apologize or show any remorse -- he came out swinging, and he knew he could.

Unlike with Spygate, the league can't destroy evidence implicating the team, but it can (and probably will) take at face value the lack of evidence implying a larger conspiracy. If any punishment comes down -- and it should, given the pattern, the lying and the refusal to cooperate with the investigation -- it will likely got to two staffers named, and perhaps even Brady. But the Kraft empire will remain intact.

It'll be interesting to see if Goodell -- who always looks out for the interests of the real power, the owners -- will stand up to his biggest and most outspoken boss. A fine should be expected, and a suspension would certainly be warranted, but I'm with the cynics who are certain the reigning Super Bowl MVP will be on the field for the Thursday night season opener. And even if Brady does get suspended, Kraft and Belichick being let off the hook by the report shows the real problem here: The Patriots don't think the rules should apply to them.

Goodell has insisted in the past that ignorance is not an excuse in absolving those in charge when their underlings do wrong. I doubt that logic will hold in this case. Kraft and Belichick are betting that it won't.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net