At some point during the ballooning of the professional football “cheating” scandal known as “Deflategate,” one of my podcast co-hosts asked me, “What do we do?” His comment demonstrated concern over a common topic of our show, the greatness of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and it took me aback.
“What do we do?” We do nothing. The situation has nothing to do with us. We’re innocent bystanders, nothing more than passive observers of a train wreck so massive that even an actual Amtrak derailment has grabbed fewer headlines. We have no skin in this game, pig or otherwise.
“What do we do?” My astonishment at my compatriot’s query stemmed from my view of Brady. He was unbreakable, more likely to walk away from this disaster unharmed than Bruce Willis’ David Dunn. Everything I knew and every story I heard about Brady told me that he was too singularly focused on improving himself to provide any fodder, even unintentionally, to the people looking to pierce his perfect image. And he didn’t.
Then I witnessed the manufacturing of the material and realized the issue had nothing to do with him and everything to do with everyone else.
Despite its reliance on highly decontextualized and indirect evidence (not to mention the questionable character of its author Ted Wells), the “Investigative Report Concerning Footballs used During the AFC Championship Game on January 18th, 2015” became the commonly accepted version of the truth behind “Deflategate.” Wells ensured it would be by how he framed the arguments within it and subsequently defensed them in the media. In both instances, he was preemptively painting any potential critiques as illegitimate.
Perhaps the most glaring example of Wells’ attempted intellectual intimidation comes in reference to the circumstantial communication-based evidence that his argument heavily relies upon. He writes that his findings were “significantly influenced by the substantial number of communications and events consistent with” his conclusion and that “a contrary conclusion requires the acceptance of an implausible number of communications and events as benign coincidences” (15-16). Consider that language for a few seconds: “a contrary conclusion requires the acceptance of an implausible number of…coincidences.” In other words, if you disagree with this report, you’re disconnected from reality. The only way he could’ve composed this defense more plainly was, “If you disagree, you’re stupid.”
Of course, the internet is stating it so plainly. Read the comment section on any article about Deflategate and three things become abundantly clear: Tom Brady is a cheater, his denying he cheated further proves he’s a cheater, and anyone who believes he isn’t a cheater is stupid. Of course, this argumentation style is commonplace online, and, as Michael Bay says, there are only about fifty people on the Internet, so it’s hard to take these e-truths seriously. I’ve always been of the belief, however, that Internet trolls are not independent thinkers and only become so emboldened when those people they’re taking their cues from are as deft as Wells.
Many members of the media have done everything in their power to to fortify the Wells Report’s findings. In recent weeks, major news sources have published articles that say Brady should come clean now, declare he can’t win his appeal of his suspension, claim Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick never believed Brady, and mock a “Free Tom Brady” rally. This “reporting” follows the months of incorrect information that was spread after the story initially broke in January, including the now-infamous report that 11 of the 12 Patriots’ balls were 2 PSI under the league minimum.
The evidence is clear. There is more probably than not a systematic attack on Brady by Wells and members of the media. Any contradictory conclusion requires the acceptance of an implausible number of coincidences. Notice how I didn’t claim that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is involved. While his motives may be less than productive (many people have likely been correct when speculating that he is pandering to public opinion to redeem his image after the scandals of the 2014 season), I don’t think it’s to his benefit to tear down Brady.
How is to to anyone’s benefit to tear down Brady? The answer to that question is one that I myself have been unable to accept until now. In one of our many conversations about Deflategate, my father correctly observed “Your generation doesn’t have any heroes.” I am an outlier in this instance. Throughout my life, I’ve searched far and wide for people to admire and emulate, and mostly been derided for doing so. When I express love for Brady, Belichick, movie director Zack Snyder, or Survivor player “Boston” Rob Mariano, my sexuality is usually called into question, because, apparently, admiration can only be a result of sexual desire.
According to Wells’ and his intellectual ilk, the inability to admire each other non-romantically is not limited to straight men. It is a fact of human nature. My generation has no heroes because we’ve been raised on a belief in man’s inherent fallibility. If someone with a history of downplaying his successes and strengths falls, he is offered a helping hand up with a “he’s only human.” If someone with a history of focusing on achievement and rectifying his weaknesses fails, he’s kicked while he’s down with a “see, you’re just like the rest of us.”
“Just like the rest of us,” of course,” implies an “us vs. them” mentality where “them” has to be dragged down to “us,” and that outlook is where the whole situation takes a dark turn. My other podcast co-host has steadfastly believed in a concept called “hatred of the good for being the good” for years. HotG basically “means hatred of that which one regards as good by one’s own (conscious or subconscious) judgment. It means hatred of a person for possessing a value or virtue one regards as desirable.” To put it as simply as possibly, instead of feeling a positive emotion when you see something good, you feel a negative one.
Despite the preponderance of evidence presented to me, I could never wrap my head around feeling bad around good. It just didn’t seem possible to me for that to be a natural emotional reaction for anyone, so I tried to be generous. “They must see or know something I don’t,” I assured myself. “Or maybe they’re too stupid to understand what they’re looking at.” Then Deflategate and the Wells Report happened, and my hamfisted attempts to impugn my own intelligence and apply Hanlon’s razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”) fell short.
Wells is too deft with how he presents his report for me to assume incompetence. Reading his document clearly demonstrates that he is a lawyer who knows his way around language. I’ve even read analysis on how deftly the investigation as a whole was handled. For instance, one of the major pieces of evidence used to argue that the Patriots have knowledge of Brady’s guilt is that they refused to turn an employee over for an interview even though it would’ve been the League’s fifth interview with him. Apparently this tactic is a common way to get an opponent to make himself look bad. Keep asking him to aid your investigation and then, when he finally refuses, paint him as an obstructionist.
The reporting of Deflategate has also been too consistent in its messaging for me to believe it’s accidentally destructive. Even through all the leaks, misinformation, and reveals, most reporters and organizations have refused to consider any alternative to Brady being guilty. They labeled his initial press conference on the matter as an unintentional admission of guilt and have used their own assessment as the backbone of their argument ever since. When Saturday Night Live gets involved, a show that has a history of obviously attempting to shape public perception, the truth is self-evident.
“What do we do?” We admit that we were wrong. This fight isn’t a petty squabble over the insignificant impact of minor air pressure differences in the game balls for professional football games. It’s about how we view our heroes and ourselves. We need to celebrate both for their strengths and for working through their weaknesses.
“What do we do?” We pull our heads out of the sand. There are malicious, hateful people out there who will attempt to destroy anything just because it’s good and convince you that doing so is for your benefit. Don’t believe them.
“What do we do?” We acknowledge the truth. Tom Brady is innocent and there are people out there trying to make the opposite true because of his greatness. And if we let them, they’ll come for us next.
Because if they can destroy Tom Brady over inconclusive evidence regarding minor air pressure differences in footballs, they can destroy anyone over anything.