Prior to the Super Bowl, the NFL had another controversy to handle, following evidence that the footballs used by the New England Patriots during their victory over the Indianapolis Colts were deflated below legal limits. Ted Wells, the lawyer who also produced the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin Bullying report for the league, was retained to investigate the cheating claims, and has finally released his comprehensive, 243 page report has been released. We breakdown the findings.
What did the report find?
In a nutshell, the report found that, the most probable explanation for the deflated footballs used by the New England Patriots during their win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game was deliberate tampering after the balls were inspected by the officiating crew.
The report implicates Jim McNally—the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots—and John Jastremski—an equipment assistant for the Patriots—in deliberately tampering with the footballs, and also indicates that Tom Brady was, at least generally aware that this was going on, but postulates that it is “unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady‟s knowledge and approval”.
McNally, who was seen on CCTV going into the toilets with the balls, is implicated with actually deflating the balls on game day, but Jastremski is also implicated in the planning, as well as acting as the go-between for Brady and McNally.
How did the tampering happen?
According to the report, on the day in question, McNally, who is employed on a casual basis during Patriots home games to deliver the balls to the officials, took the 12 (or possibly 13) balls to referee, Walt Anderson, informing him that Brady wanted the balls inflated to 12.5psi, the minimum pressure allowed under the rules.
All but two of the balls were found to be inflated to 12.5 PSI using the official pressure gauge, however two were below the allowed limits, and were inflated to 12.5 PSI prior to the game. The Colts balls were measured using the same gauge, and found to be at around 13 or 13.1 PSI, which Anderson determined was the Colts target number, and were not adjusted further, even though “one or two” registered lower, at 12.8 or 12.9, according to Anderson.
Once the balls are delivered to the game officials, they should not be touched by anyone else until they are delivered to the field, however, without permission, McNally took the Patriots and Colts balls to the field himself, stopping along the way to visit a bathroom with the balls. McNally was seen doing this on CCTV, however as no CCTV cameras are in the bathroom, it is impossible to know for sure what was done while behind the locked door. He was in the bathroom for approximately 1:40.
He then continued to the field with the balls.
According to the report, it is in this 1:40 that McNally deflated the 12 Patriots footballs using a ball pump “needle” to remove air from the balls.
How did the report prove that tampering happened?
“Proved” is a word the report never uses, as, put simply, no-one saw the deflation happen. However, Wells, an experienced criminal trial lawyer collected masses of evidence, presented in the report, which demonstrates that there is no credible explanation for the deflation other than delibarate tampering.
This included several scientific studies from Exponent and other experts, which cannot find any credible reason for the Patriots balls to have been deflated by the amount they were, and also demonstrated that malfunctioning equipment wasn’t to blame. This included testing for pressure change due to changes in temperature, how wet or dry the balls were, impact and usage and other environmental causes. None of these things could fully explain the drop in pressure.
Furthermore, the report showed multiple text messages where McNally and Jastremski discuss the way Tom Brady likes balls to be prepared, and specifically mention McNally as someone involved in that—even though, as the Wells report points out “His legitimate job responsibilities …did not involve the preparation, inflation or deflation of Patriots game balls”—discuss how Jastremski will provide McNally with a “needle” for inflation and deflation of the ball, discuss how Brady personally holds McNally responsible for the incorrect inflation of balls previously.
It also discuss apparent payment for McNally’s role, including cash, signed game jerseys, and photographs, and new shoes, many of which McNally received. At one point McNally even refers to himself as “the deflator” and seems to suggest that he will talk to the media if Brady doesn’t provide him with payment.
Finally, it details numerous calls between Brady and Jastremski, and McNally and Jastremski in the days following the revelations, both of which saw a significant increase in frequency and duration.
In addition, it highlights Brady’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation, including refusing to turn over his phone, emails and other key correspondence, as suspicious for a man with nothing to hide, and viewed him as deliberately obstructing their investigation.
What have the Patriots, Brady said?
Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots strongly denies any wrongdoing by anyone in the organisation, and continues to insist that atmospheric conditions and nothing else caused the balls to deflate. He claims that “I don’t know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definitive evidence.”
However, the report includes detailed analysis from industry experts Exponent which show that while the temperature difference between the locker room and the field that day would cause the pressure in the balls to drop, no model or real world test could account for the amount of pressure change measured—1.2 PSI on average, with a maximum reduction 2 PSI for the Patriots, compared to an average reduction of just 0.4 PSI, and a maximum of 0.85 PSI for the Colts.
Although he disputes the results, Kraft has admitted that he will not challenge the ruling. “Knowing that there is no real recourse available, fighting the league and extending this debate would prove to be futile. We understand and greatly respect the responsibility of being one of 32 in this league and, on that basis, we will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league”
Bill Belichick, who the report suggests was unaware of the goings on, has yet to comment on the situation.
For his part, Tom Brady, via his agent, has flatly denied any impropriety, catagorising the report as a “sting operation” and suggesting that the league colluded with the Colts to implicate him.
“What does it say about the league office’s protocols and ethics when it allows one team to tip it off to an issue prior to a championship game, and no league officials or game officials notified the Patriots of the same issue prior to the game? This suggests it may be more probable than not that the league cooperated with the Colts in perpetrating a sting operation.”
His agent also goes on to suggest that Brady provided the investigators with much more information than was printed.
“For reasons unknown, the Wells report omitted nearly all of Tom’s testimony, most of which was critical because it would have provided this report with the context that it lacks”. However, as the report points out, Brady’s decision to withhold key evidence taints his testimony, and meant that their interviews and questions also lacked key context.
Some news agencies printed a quote from the report saying the balls were not tampered with deliberately, what has changed?
While the report was still being read and digested, several news sources printed the following quote from the summary.
“Based on the evidence, the investigation has further concluded that that there was no deliberate attempt by the Patriots to introduce to the playing field a non-approved kicking ball during the AFC Championship Game.”
Some people, incorrectly assumed that this snippet related to the overall findings of the report, when, in fact, it related only to a very small part of the investigation, about whether the Patriots had also attempted to also use unauthorised kicking balls. Overall, this was a small, separate issue, stemming from the fact that Walt Anderson’s initials were apparently not applied to the main kicking ball prepared by the Patriots, forcing it to be removed from the game.
This appears to be a case of genuine human error.
What will the punishment be?
McNally and Jastremski will almost certainly be relieved of their duties for the Patriots and the league. This is the simplest solution for the team, and the league, and appears to be automatic.
As for Brady, and the team, the situation is less clear cut.
Brady will likely be punished for his part, however, as the report was unable to directly link him to the plan to deflate the balls, exactly how severe that punishment will be is unclear.
A fine seems automatic, but beyond that, it will depend on to what extent the league agree with wells that it is “unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady‟s knowledge and approval”.
If they believe, as seems to be the case, that Brady instructed staff to deflate the balls, and that this was not an isolated event for Brady then a suspension will likely also be forthcoming.
How long the suspension will be is a real stab in the dark, as there is really no precedent for the action. Some have suggested as little as a single game, a “token” suspension to make an example out of him, while others have suggested that a yearlong, or even lifetime ban may be in order if if they decide that they need to make clear that cheating will not be tolerated.
We think that a 2-4 game suspension is most likely though, which may be reduced on appeal.
However, another factor could be Brady’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation. The league do have precedence for punishing players simply for refusing to cooperate with them—Brett Favre was handed a hefty fine by the league in 2010 for his failure to cooperate with the Jenn Sterger Sexting scandal.
As for the organisation as a whole, while Wells found most of their key personnel had no direct involvement with the deflation of the balls, they nonetheless did not come out unscathed, and he seemingly appeared to suggest that the team may be in line for punishment due to their failure to cooperate with parts of the investigation:
“We believe the failure by the Patriots and its counsel to produce McNally for the requested follow-up interview violated the club’s obligations to cooperate with the investigation under the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of League Rules and was inconsistent with public statements made by the Patriots pledging full cooperation with the investigation.”
Wells has stressed that his role is investigation the situation, not recommending punishment, but his specific mention of the rules he believes the Patriots broke would imply that he feels that their actions deserve closer scrutiny by the league going forward.