Accusations that the New England Patriots purposely deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18—to make them easier for quarterback Tom Brady to grip and throw—has added another layer of scandal to the NFL. The league, is already under fire for its handling of domestic violence cases involving players.
Coming just days before the Super Bowl, the incident, known as “DeflateGate” is being talked about as much as the upcoming game between the Patriots and rival Seattle Seahawks. After the lopsided win over the Colts, the Pats were accused of under inflating the balls.
Brady previously admitted that he prefers a deflated football. At a press conference last week he said, "I like them at 12.5 (PSI). That's the perfect grip for a football," he said. It's also the minimum PSI allowed by the NFL. Brady added that he “would never do anything to break the rules.”
Since the news broke, sports pundits have been engaged in a Super Bowl of their own, taking sides in the scandal.
During at a live taping of ESPNs “First Take,” Skip Bayless recalled comments made from Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney which suggest that this is not the first time the Patriots may have cheated to gain an edge in the Super Bowl. According to Bayless, Hurney believes his team was illegally taped by someone connected to the Patriots “during their walk through the night before the Super Bowl that (Bill) Belichick and Brady won” in New Orleans.
“Now, we have the GM of the Panthers…saying that ‘we have long suspected the Patriots of taping one of our practices before the second Super Bowl that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won together.’ Why would Bill Belichick the greatest coach ever establish a culture of cheating? Why would the greatest coach ever need to cheat?” Bayless said.
Co-anchor Stephen A. Smith snapped back, “I think it’s incredibly disrespectful to Bill Belichick, what you’re saying, and here’s why: If Bill Belichick was cheating, how has he been cheating this long? This man is a three-time Super Bowl champion. He’s been to 5 Super Bowls. This level of excellence…you’re trying to tell me Bill Belichick’s been cheating all these years, and nobody’s caught him?”
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said he didn’t expect NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hand down any serious punishments for the alleged offense, and certainly no one would get suspended from Super Bowl play. He noted, however that it was ironic that the NFL reportedly threatened to eject Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch from the NFC Championship Game on Sunday if he tried to play in the game wearing his custom-made gold shoes.
“You know, they were trying to suspend Marshawn for gold shoes and that really affects the game if you suspend Marshawn,” Sherman said told the New York Daily. “But then you’ve got balls being deflated and that’s (another) issue.”
On Jan. 20, ESPN reported that 11 of the 12 game footballs originally supplied by the Patriots were found to be under-inflated by two pounds per square inch. On Sunday, Belichick held a surprise press conference to vigorously defend his team from allegations of any wrongdoing.
“I believe now 100% that I have personally and we as an organization have absolutely followed every rule to the letter,” Belichick said. “At no time was there any intent whatsoever to try to compromise the integrity of the game or to gain an advantage…We welcome the league’s investigation into the matter.”
Between domestic violence scandals, which plagued the NFL last year, and now allegations of cheating, the league is in need of some soul searching. Will the league finally take a meaningful stand against players who act immorally and unethically?
More immediate, with the big game just three days away and allegations yet unproven, there will not likely be any decisions made under after the season ends. So, if the Pats win, who’s to say they won it fair and square and who’s to say they didn’t? And when the glare of this pro football season fades, and the next news cycle begins, will it really matter?
At best, the hiatus can buy the league more time to make badly needed changes which must begin on the inside.
Super Bowl XLIX airs Sunday, Feb. 2 at 3:30 pm (PST) on NBC.