Gillette Stadium, the site of the game
|Date||January 18, 2015|
|Stadium||Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts|
|Favorite||Patriots by 7|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Jim Nantz and Phil Simms|
Deflategate was a National Football League (NFL) controversy involving the allegation that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ordered the deliberate deflation of footballs used in the Patriots' victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game. The controversy resulted in Brady being suspended for four games; the team was fined $1 million and forfeited two draft selections in 2016.
For his part in the scandal, Brady was originally suspended by the league for four games of the 2015 regular season, which was upheld by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in an internal appeal. The matter moved to federal court, where Judge Richard M. Berman vacated Goodell's four-game suspension of Brady, allowing Brady to resume his playing duties for the entirety of the 2015 season. However, following the conclusion of the season, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated Brady's four-game suspension, which became effective for the 2016 regular season. After losing a request for a rehearing, Brady announced he would accept the suspension. The controversy remained a topic of discussion during the 2016 season, which concluded with the Patriots winning Super Bowl LI and Brady being named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the game. The season also saw the NFL change the procedure for monitoring football pressure.
The official rules of the National Football League require footballs to be inflated to a gauge pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi) or 86 to 93 kPa, when measured by the referees. The rules do not specify the temperature at which such measurement is to be made. Per the pressure-temperature law, there is a positive correlation between the temperature and pressure of a gas with a fixed volume and mass. Thus, if a football were inflated to the minimum pressure of 12.5 psi at room temperature, the pressure would drop below the minimum as the gases inside cooled to a colder ambient temperature on the playing field.
Prior to 2006, normal NFL operating procedure was for the home team to provide all of the game's footballs. In 2006, the rules were altered so that each team uses its own footballs while on offense. Teams rarely handle a football used by the other team except after recovering a fumble or interception. Brady, along with Peyton Manning, who started at quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, argued for the rules to change for the express purpose of letting quarterbacks use footballs that suited them. Removing air from a football makes it easier to grip, throw, and catch.
Early reports suggested that the Colts and Baltimore Ravens first suspected that the footballs the Patriots were using in the games against each team might have been deliberately under-inflated to gain an illegal advantage during the 2014 NFL regular season, although Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh denied reports concerning the Ravens.
AFC Championship Game
The American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game for the 2014 season was played on January 18, 2015, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the Patriots, who hosted the Colts. The winning team would advance to play in Super Bowl XLIX. Prior to the game, the Colts had notified the NFL that they suspected the Patriots were under-inflating balls, but provided no specific information.
During the first half of the AFC Championship Game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception to Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. After the play was over, Jackson handed the ball to the Colts equipment manager for safekeeping as a souvenir. Early reports suggested that Jackson was the first to suspect the ball was deflated, but Jackson said he did not notice anything wrong with the ball he caught. Jackson says he actually did not even know the ball was taken or that the controversy existed until he was being driven home from the team's charter plane after the Colts had arrived in Indianapolis. "I wouldn't know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage," Jackson said, "I definitely wouldn't be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another." After Jackson's interception, the team notified NFL Gameday Operations that they "understood that there was a problem with the inflation level of a Patriots football."
At halftime, NFL officials inspected the footballs. Former NFL referee Gerry Austin initially, and incorrectly, stated that 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots were measured to be two pounds per square inch below the minimum amount, but later reports refuted this allegation, citing only a single ball was two pounds per square inch below the minimum, while others were just a few ticks under the minimum. It was subsequently revealed that in NFL Official Clete Blakeman's measurement sequence (deemed the more accurate of the two gauges), five of eleven footballs measured below 11.0 pounds, this being less than 90% of the officially mandated minimum pressure and a full two pounds below the claimed original inflation target (a magnitude of pressure loss difficult to account for through environmental factors alone).
According to NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino, referees do not log the pressure of the balls prior to the game, or check during the game, and did not do so in this case. Walt Anderson, the referee, gauged the footballs. The Patriots' game balls were re-inflated at halftime to meet specifications and were reintroduced into the game.
No issues were raised on the pressure of the footballs used in the second half. The pressures of four of the Colts' footballs were measured at halftime using two gauges, and were found to be within regulation on one of the two gauges, but not on the other gauge. The remainder were not measured because, according to the Wells Report, "the officials were running out of time before the start of the second half."
The Patriots led 17–7 at halftime; in the second half, the Patriots scored 28 points for a final score of 45–7.
On January 22, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick indicated that he did not know anything about the balls being under-inflated until the day after the event, and that the New England Patriots would "cooperate fully" with any investigation. He said,
When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to hear about the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge of the situation until Monday morning. [...] I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on the footballs. They know a lot more than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you, and they will tell you, that there's never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Zero. [...] Tom's personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady initially referred to the accusations as "ridiculous". Brady also held a news conference on January 22, prepping his team with a talk beforehand. He denied any involvement and stated that the National Football League had not contacted him in regard to their investigation. He went on to say that he was "handling the situation before the Super Bowl".
HeadSmart Labs found that similar weather changes caused an average 1.8 psi drop in football pressure. They also reported that the air in an electric pump could reach 130 °F.
On January 27, an anonymous league source stated that the investigation was focusing on a Patriots locker room attendant who was seen on surveillance video taking the 24 game footballs (12 from each team) into a restroom for approximately 90 seconds. This video was provided to the NFL by the New England Patriots the day after the 45–7 Patriots victory.
Blandino confirmed on January 29 that the NFL checks, but does not log, the pregame pressure of each football, and therefore is no record of where in the 12.5 to 13.5 pound range each Patriots and Colts football was before the game. In the same news conference, referee Bill Vinovich said,
We test them. It's 12.5 to 13.5. We put 13 in every ball. ... Dean tested a couple in the office and had one under-inflated and one to specs, and you really couldn't tell the difference unless you actually sat there and tried to squeeze the thing or did some extraordinary thing. If someone just tossed you the ball, especially in 20 degree weather, you're going to pretty much play with the ball. They are going to be hard. You're not going to notice the difference.
Additional details released by the NFL on February 1 confirmed that only one of the twelve balls was under pressured by two psi, and that many balls were under pressured by "just a few ticks".
The investigation also found that officials noticed during the game that a game ball was missing, and two different officials handed replacement balls to a Patriots equipment manager. One of those officials was reportedly fired from the NFL for selling game balls for personal profit, though the NFL denied this claim. The Patriots even submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Brady, who filed a federal lawsuit against the league to overturn his suspension, straddling the line between NFL stakeholder and whistleblower. 
Origin of the investigation
Ryan Grigson, speaking at the 2016 NFL Combine, stated that "prior to the AFC Championship Game, we notified the league about our concerns that the Patriots might be using under-inflated footballs". According to the NFL's investigation, "Grigson, Sullivan, and other members of the Colts equipment staff referenced the Colts Week 11 game against the Patriots in Indianapolis. During that game, Colts strong safety Mike Adams intercepted two passes thrown by Tom Brady… the intercepted footballs appeared to be coated in a tacky substance and seemed spongy or soft when squeezed.":46 A New York Post article noted that Grigson's claim implied that the NFL had advance knowledge of the issue and was trying to run a sting operation, contradicting Blandino's claim that it was an issue that "came up in the first half". The claim also contradicts NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent's statement that Grigson notified the league "during the second quarter of the game".
On January 23, the NFL hired Manhattan attorney Ted Wells to "get to the bottom of Deflategate." Wells previously had worked with the NFL to "get to the bottom" of the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. In a press release, following the league's decision to hire Wells, the NFL claimed that the investigation "will be thorough and objective, and is being pursued expeditiously" with league Executive Vice President Jeff Pash working along with Wells in coming to the review of the impending issue. Many, especially the New England media, questioned exactly how "independent" Wells could truly be, as a result of his history with the NFL. Rather, they wanted to see an investigator without ties to the NFL appointed to investigate this scandal. Finally after four months of waiting the NFL published a 243-page investigative report regarding the deflation of footballs used in the AFC Championship game on May 6, 2015. This report is known as the Wells Report, named for its leading author, attorney Theodore V. Wells, Jr., of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The investigation concluded that it was "more probable than not" that New England Patriots equipment personnel were deliberately circumventing the rules.:122 Further, Brady was implicated as it being more probable than not that he was "generally aware" of the deflation.:122 The report further stated that Belichick and other members of the coaching staff were not involved in the situation.:122 The report focuses on the communications and actions of locker-room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski. The report concludes it was "more probable than not" that the two deliberately released air from Patriots game balls after they were tested by game officials. In several texts between Jastremski and McNally, the two mention and joke about inflation, deflation, needles, and gifts from Tom Brady to McNally. Tom Brady was a constant reference point in these discussions. McNally referred to himself as "the deflator" in a text message to Jastremski as far back as May 2014.:75
The Wells Report relied on scientific analysis performed by the Exponent consulting company and supported by Dr. Daniel Marlow, a professor of Physics at Princeton University. This analysis concluded that no studied factors accounted for the loss of air pressure exhibited by the Patriots game balls. The Wells Report asserted that the scientific study supported the report's conclusion that the loss of air pressure may be accounted for by human intervention.:130–31
The Wells report's physics argument, based on multiple experiments as well as theoretical modeling, runs as follows.:Appendix 1, 63–68 Several conjectured sources of variability (differences in game use, alleged "vigorous rubbing" by the Patriots before play, leakage during the game, and variations in football volume) can be set aside as they have no discernible effect. Based on documented habit, as well as the recollections of referee Walt Anderson, the Patriots balls were (as usual) set around 12.5 psi, and the Colts balls around 13.0 psi, before their games. The ideal gas law shows that footballs inflated in a warm environment will drop in pressure in a cold environment; however, a football is not a thermos, and the footballs would have rapidly started to re-inflate when taken to the officials' locker room for halftime testing. (Wells estimates that the Patriots balls had 2–4 minutes to re-pressurize before measurements began; the measurements themselves spanned an estimated 4–5 minutes.:70)
Besides temperature-based deflation and the timing of the measurements, the condition of a ball's surface (wet vs. dry) also has a small but detectable effect on the measured pressure; there can also be minor measurement error caused by the gauges. During halftime, the referees used two gauges on each ball: the same Non-Logo Gauge that Wells believes to have been used by Anderson before the game to confirm the pre-game pressure, and an additional Logo Gauge. The Logo Gauge appears to consistently run at least 0.35 psi above the (accurately calibrated):Appendix 1, 45 non-Logo gauge, but both were determined to be extremely consistent and precise. In particular, the Logo gauge is inaccurate (it runs high) but is precise (it consistently runs high by the same amount every time), and therefore can be used as additional confirmation that the non-Logo measurement is correct (with the exception of Colts ball #3, below). Wells believes that Blakeman and NFL Official Dyrol Prioleau used the Non-Logo and Logo gauges respectively in the Patriots halftime tests, and that the two of them switched gauges with each other for the Colts halftime test.
Even with the combined effect of wet vs. dry balls, temperature-driven pressure loss from the 50-degree Fahrenheit halftime game weather followed by partial temperature-driven pressure increase inside the warm locker room, and errors in measurement, Wells concluded that, while there is no absolute certainty, there was no studied "set of credible environmental or physical factors that completely accounts" for the total measured pressure loss.:12 and 131
The Exponent science report concluded that no credible environmental or physical factors within the game characteristics fully explain the additional loss of pressure in the Patriots footballs relative to the Colts footballs.:Exponent p68 #13
Below are the halftime football measurements, by team and referee::68–69
Exponent believes the measurements for Colts ball 3 involve some sort of transcription error by the original NFL transcriber, as it is only row that reverses the usual Logo vs. Non-Logo differential.
Reactions to the report
Patriots fans, and New England media, tore into the report for various reasons including phrases like "more probable than not" and "generally aware" in relation to Tom Brady's knowledge of the situation, and the decision to write the report in a way that minimizes the NFL's wrongdoing in relation to the air pressure of the footballs. New England fans were furious at ESPN, especially at Chris Mortensen, for broadcasting news stories that were seen as painting the Patriots in a negative light. Mark Brunell and Jerome Bettis strongly criticized Brady on ESPN, saying that based on their playing experience it was unlikely that the balls had been under-inflated without Brady's awareness.
On May 6, 2015, in reaction to the Wells Report, James Glanz of The New York Times wrote an article titled "In the End, Science Works Against the Patriots." The story took the position that the Patriots almost certainly cheated, and that the proof of it is that when accounting for warming during half-time prior to measurement, the ideal gas law could not explain the Patriots' football pressure. Later, Joe Nocera of the same newspaper took the opposite position: the January 22, 2016, article, "True Scandal of Deflategate Lies in the N.F.L.'s Behavior," took the position that the analysis by Professor John Leonard, concluding that "no deflation occurred and that the Patriots are innocent. It never happened," is, in the words of Nocera, "utterly convincing."
On May 7, when asked to comment on the report, Brady stated that he had no reaction since the report was 30 hours old, he was still "digesting the report", and he hoped to comment more fully in the future. He also referred back to owner Robert Kraft's comments following the release of the report. Brady's agent, Don Yee, criticized the report stating investigators jumped to conclusions.
On May 12, lead author Ted Wells defended the report, indicating text messages between Patriots game-day employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski about Brady were more than circumstantial evidence to implicate Brady.
On May 14, attorney Daniel L. Goldberg prepared a document rebutting specific charges made in the Wells Report, citing Nobel Prize-winning scientist Roderick MacKinnon, who has financial ties to Robert Kraft. Goldberg has represented the Patriots and was present during all of the interviews of Patriots personnel conducted at Gillette Stadium.
In June 2015, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank utilizing the ideal gas law as a basis for their report, released an independent scientific analysis that concluded that the Wells Report was "deeply flawed" and that "[i]t is ... unlikely that the Patriots deflated the footballs." The report noted the lack of evidence of a pressure rise during the measurements and used it to challenge the timing assumptions and thus the question of how much warming happened to Patriots' and Colts' footballs, and thus the question of whether the pressure differences could be explained by science. The NFL responded that timing still could not explain the pressure declines."
On August 19, 2015, New York Law School professor and self-described Patriots detractor Robert Blecker posted an article "DeflateGate: the Smoking Gun", in which he looked at pictures in the Wells report and concluded that they had been deliberately staged to make the ref's recollection about which gauge was used appear less reliable. 60 Minutes Sports later interviewed Blecker and showed the pictures.
On August 26, self-described Patriots fan Robert F. Young posted online a letter he sent to the judge reviewing the Tom Brady suspension. It requested permission to file an amicus curiae brief. The judge posted the letter to the official court docket on September 10, 2015. The Wall Street Journal reported on Mr. Young's work being on the docket on September 17, 2015. The letter asserted that the lack of pressure rise noted by the American Enterprise Institute report was due not to timing differences but rather due to the science firm used in the Wells Report, Exponent, deliberately rigging the warming test to produce too high a result, as compared to the game-day events, by not properly simulating how on game-day the Patriots' footballs had remained in the bag. The letter summarized how it claimed the Exponent appendix to the Wells report provides sufficient proof of the deception and that the fundamental conclusion that the Patriots' ball pressure could not be explained by science was a lie on the part of Exponent.
On August 26, Robert F. Young posted online the 59-page amicus brief that he sent to the court. Judge Richard M. Berman posted the brief to the official court docket on September 9, 2015, and it was subsequently noted and linked to by The Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2015. In addition to providing the supporting detail behind the letter, it used heat flow theory to calculate that the warming difference caused by the bag on game day was sufficient to completely explain the difference between the NLF/Exponent simulation results based on the referee's recollection of the gauge and the actual Patriots' ball pressures.
The brief examined each reason given by Exponent for not believing the referee regarding the question of which gauge had been used pre-game, arguing why Exponent would not have actually believed each reason it gave. It noted an observation by Professor Blecker that Exponent's timing assumption for the Colts' footballs had no basis in information provided by the NFL and was not explained in any way. It noted that with the more generally agreed timing assumption of the Colts' balls having been tested at the last minute, the Exponent experimental simulation data was inconsistent with disbelieving the referee and consistent with believing the referee. Combining the above it argued that the Exponent work, when properly understood, shows that to the best that can be known by the science known to Exponent, the evidence proves that no air was improperly removed from the Patriots' footballs.
On August 30, Robert F. Young posted a pictorial summary of the issues mentioned in his amicus brief. The summary included experimental data from Patriots fan Mike Greenway, not part of the brief, showing that even a dry bag, partially open, was sufficient to slow warming of even a football in the top of the bag by 2.5 times relative to the Exponent experimental work.
On August 31, writing an op-ed piece for WBUR-FM, Professor Blecker explained how he believes the NFL and Exponent had been deceptive regarding crucial evidence, and that he believes that most likely no cheating was committed by the Patriots. The op-ed mentions that the "expert accusers" (Exponent) ignored the effect of the balls having remained in the bag on game day. The op-ed linked to Robert F. Young's website Deflategate landing page for further proof of the bag issue.
During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on CBS on September 13, 2015, Blecker claimed that the NFL investigation was completely biased against the Patriots. He stated that the gauges used to measure the footballs at halftime were Walt Anderson's personal gauges and that, "if you want to know how much something has dropped, you've got to measure it with the same gauge before the game as you do at halftime." Blecker also noted that the side-by-side comparison of the two gauges shown in the Wells Report were different sizes. In addition to that, the picture also showed that the NFL measured the two needles at different spots to make the smaller needle appear longer. According to Blecker, the different needle sizes resulted in one gauge reading at a constant measure of about 0.4 PSI higher than the other. On December 14, 2015, Blecker filed an amicus curiae brief accusing the NFL of being "infected with bias, unfairness, evident partiality and occasional fraud".
On November 25, 2015, MIT professor John Leonard posted a lecture on YouTube titled "Taking the Measure of Deflategate" in which he explains why he believes the Exponent portion of the Wells Report contains technical failures that caused the report to incorrectly conclude that footballs were deflated. An abridged version of the lecture is available here, also on YouTube. Leonard walks through the ideal gas law calculations and highlights others' mistakes by not using absolute pressure, and concludes that the Patriots' footballs met the ideal gas law prediction.
"If I had to stake my reputation and my career on it, the Patriots' balls match the Ideal Gas Law prediction, and I don't know why people can't get that." — John Leonard, "Taking the Measure of Deflategate" @ 47:37
Leonard then pointed out inconsistencies in the Exponent report regarding the effect of wetness on volume, and cited one study by Thomas Healy, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, that showed up to a three percent increase in volume if the balls are wet. Leonard agreed with previous analysis that showed slowed warming when the balls were kept in a bag—something he claims the Exponent reports ignores. He also details technical failures of the transient analysis in the Exponent report, which did not show a slower rate of warming for wet balls. Leonard also argues that the Exponent report contains incorrect "amplitudes" in some graphs which underrepresented the total warming of both the Colts' and Patriots' balls.
Sanctions by the NFL and appeals
On May 11, 2015, the NFL announced that Tom Brady was suspended without pay for four games of the upcoming season for his involvement, based on "substantial and credible evidence" that Brady knew Patriots employees were deflating footballs and that he failed to cooperate with investigators. The Patriots were also fined $1 million and had to forfeit their first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft as well as their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent's May 11 letter to Brady stated in part: "Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football." Troy Vincent's letter further stated: "With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots' employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge. Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information, and by providing testimony that the report concludes was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence." 
The NFL also announced a three-day appeal deadline for charges against Brady specifically according to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, and a deadline of May 21 for charges against the team. Brady's agent indicated the suspension would be appealed. The Patriots suspended Jim McNally and John Jastremski indefinitely on May 6, with the NFL indicating that the pair could not be rehired without the league's approval. Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement stating the punishment "far exceeded" reasonable expectation, was based on circumstantial evidence, and that Tom Brady had his unconditional support. After Judge Berman vacated the Brady suspension, the Patriots requested that Jastremski and McNally be reinstated; the NFL officially did so on September 16, 2015.
Commentary on the initial punishment was mixed. Bleacher Report referred to the penalties as "brutal." Various commentators also inferred that the prior reputation of the Patriots organization as a team that bends rules appeared to factor into the harshness of the punishment. Others described the punishment as "firm but fair."
After NFLPA filing an appeal
On May 14, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) filed an appeal of Tom Brady's four-game suspension. The NFL also announced Roger Goodell would preside over Brady's appeal, despite objections from the NFLPA, which requested a neutral arbitrator.
On May 19, Robert Kraft told media at an NFL owners meeting that he did not plan on appealing the penalties imposed on the team; that decision had no impact on the NFLPA's appeal on behalf of Brady. Also, Patriots fans held a "Free Brady" rally at Gillette Stadium on May 26, 2015.
On June 23, Tom Brady appealed his suspension before Roger Goodell at the NFL's offices in New York City in a 10-hour-long hearing.
After appeal hearing
On July 28, Goodell announced that he had upheld the four-game suspension, citing Brady's destruction of his cell phone as a critical factor: "On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, Brady directed that the cell phone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed," the league statement read. "He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone. During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady." The NFL also filed papers in Manhattan federal court seeking to confirm Roger Goodell's decision.
On July 29 the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) announced that they filed an injunction in Minnesota that would prevent the NFL from enforcing the four-game suspension that commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed. On July 30, a Minnesota judge ordered the lawsuit be transferred to the Southern District of New York.
After motions filed in court by NFL and NFLPA
On July 29, Brady released a statement on his Facebook page criticizing Goodell's decision to uphold the suspension, stating in part (emphasis in the original):
I am very disappointed by the NFL's decision to uphold the 4 game suspension against me. I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either. Despite submitting to hours of testimony over the past 6 months, it is disappointing that the Commissioner upheld my suspension based upon a standard that it was "probable" that I was "generally aware" of misconduct. The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused. I also disagree with yesterdays narrative surrounding my cellphone. I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline.
Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong. To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone. In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft also stated at a news conference that "I was wrong to put my faith in the league" and apologized to the team's fans for accepting the "harshest penalty in history of NFL for an alleged ball violation" because he thought that cooperating would help exonerate Brady.
The Patriots released email exchanges between the Patriots organization and the NFL on July 31, 2015. The emails, beginning in February 2015, show the Patriots' frustration over the NFL's failure to investigate the source of leaks, which turned out to consist largely of incorrect information. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com later contrasted Wells' lack of concern regarding these leaks with his "outrage" over leaks from Columbia University after they were asked to consult on the investigation.
On July 31, 2015, Tom E. Curran, writing for Comcast SportsNet New England, reported that NFL Vice President of Game Operations Mike Kensil was the "main source" of the report regarding 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs being under inflated.
Reactions to the transcript of the appeal hearing
On August 4, as part of the appeals process, the transcript from Brady's appeal hearing were made public. Analysts pointed out that the transcript raised numerous issues regarding both Goodell's ruling and the Wells Report. For example, Goodell's decision upholding the suspension stated:
"The sharp contrast between [sic] the almost complete absence of communications through the AFC championship game undermines any suggestion during the three days following the AFC championship game that the communications addressed only preparation of footballs for the Super Bowl rather than the tampering allegations and their anticipated responses to inquiries about the tampering."
"While preparing for the Super Bowl was a primary concern – is that surprising? – Brady couldn't have been more clear that other topics were broached, including the scandal, and that they didn't ONLY discuss football prep for the Seattle game."
This, along with other issues raised, led Wetzel to ask "how does anyone in the NFL – owner, coach, player or fan – possibly trust the league office to investigate and rule on anything ever again?" Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post asked on Twitter whether this "beg[s] that other disciplinary hearings be unsealed, given how NFL misconstrued testimony?" The transcript also showcased that league officials, in particular Troy Vincent, were ignorant of the ideal gas law and natural changes in PSI.
Appearance of conflict of interest of lawyers surfacing during appeal hearing
The independence of Wells and Paul, Weiss & Co. has been doubted, notably by Mike Florio, citing a conflict of interest: Lorin Reisner, who worked on the Wells Report served as the attorney who (on behalf of the NFL) cross-examined Brady at the appeal hearing; in addition, Wells asserted attorney–client privilege during the hearing.
U.S. District Court vacates suspension
On August 12, the NFL Players Association and Tom Brady met the NFL in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in Foley Square to discuss a possible settlement. No settlement was reached; the next scheduled court date was August 19. The judge asked to know what exact evidence links Brady to deflating footballs, with NFL lawyer Daniel Nash responding that there was "no direct evidence Mr. Brady clearly knew about this," including records of text messages, and phone calls between the quarterback and one of the two Patriots employees implicated. He also indicated there is no "smoking gun" showing that Brady had direct knowledge that the balls were deflated.
It was reported that, at the August 19 hearing, the Judge, Richard M. Berman, pushed the NFL to settle. While he could not force either side to settle the case, Judge Berman was critical of the NFL's argument with questions of fundamental fairness and evident impartiality. It was also reported that Berman didn't want to make a decision in the case and would rather have had both sides come to a settlement. His tactics in court were to point out the NFL's biggest flaws in their arguments, in hopes that this would trigger the settlement. The next settlement hearing was August 31, with no change in position from either side. Judge Berman indicated a final decision would be rendered within a week.
On October 26, 2015, the NFL filed a 61-page brief in court to appeal Judge Berman's decision. Goodell on the following Tuesday stated that the appeal has nothing to do with Tom Brady but instead has to do with the commissioner's current power negotiated into the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
U.S. Court of Appeals reinstates suspension
At the March 3, 2016, hearing in New York City the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit scrutinized Players Association lawyer Jeffrey L. Kessler more intensely than NFL lawyer Paul Clement, with Circuit Judge Denny Chin even stating that "the evidence of ball tampering is compelling, if not overwhelming."
On April 25, 2016, the Second Circuit reinstated Brady's four-game suspension for the 2016 regular season. Circuit Judge Barrington Daniels Parker, Jr., joined by Circuit Judge Chin, wrote that they could not "second-guess" the arbitration but were merely determining it "met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947". Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann dissented, writing that the NFL's fines for using stickum was "highly analogous" and that here "the Commissioner was doling out his own brand of industrial justice."
On May 23, 2016, Brady petitioned the court of appeals, requesting an en banc rehearing by the full court. That petition was denied on July 13, 2016. As stated by Boston Globe columnists Bob Hohler and Ben Volin in the lead of their article: "Patriots great Tom Brady suffered a resounding defeat in a federal appeals court Wednesday, leaving him with the daunting option of a last-ditch plea to the Supreme Court in his arduous quest to clear his name. More than 14 months after the National Football League punished Brady for allegedly conspiring with Patriots employees, including an aide who dubbed himself The Deflator, to tamper with the air pressure of footballs in a conference championship game, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit flatly rejected Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension. Not a single judge on the 13-member panel issued a dissent." Two days later Brady announced he would not appeal further and would serve his four game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 NFL season.
Initial media reaction to the incident was extremely strong. After the reports broke but before the completion of the NFL's investigation, several media outlets had already called for Belichick – or even the entire Patriots team – to be banned from Super Bowl XLIX. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports strongly criticized the league for deferring much of the investigation until after the Super Bowl so as not to interfere with the Patriots' preparations. Former quarterback Troy Aikman was quoted as asserting that Deflategate was worse than Bountygate, and that Belichick should receive a harsher penalty than the one-year suspension New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton received in the latter. Other voices in the press, meanwhile, took a strident but opposing view, calling it a "phony scandal", or "the dumbest sports scandal ever", and accused the media generally of overhyping the issue. Factors that may have helped fuel media interest in the incident include:
- The 2007 Spygate incident, in which the Patriots were sanctioned for having a video camera in an unapproved location filming an opponent's defensive signals during a game in violation of a memo that was sent to the NFL teams, a memo that misquoted the rules in question.
- Unrelated incidents earlier in the season, involving NFL players: Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend unconscious and Adrian Peterson whipping his child, and the media's focus on the reaction by the league.
- The two-week hiatus between championship games and the Super Bowl, which creates natural pressure on sports journalists writing on the NFL to "fill the void".
- Chris Mortensen's report, citing league sources, which claimed the balls were as low as 10.5 PSI, which was shown to be false months later when measurements were released in the Wells Report. The Patriots released e-mails showing their lawyers pleading with NFL attorneys to correct the record, but the NFL made no effort to do so. This led to criticism from Forbes that ESPN, perhaps due to its "unnerving" financial commitments with the league, were unable to report on the league objectively.
The strength of the initial media reaction to the incident contrasts with the very superficial coverage that media outlets gave to allegations of prohibited texts sent by Cleveland Browns staff, or that the Atlanta Falcons may have secured an unfair advantage by piping in artificial crowd noise during opponents' offensive snaps, even though some argued that if the accusations were true, "that's a far more serious offense than any deflated footballs could possibly be". In a November 2014 game between the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers, with wind chill temperature of negative seven degrees, both teams used sideline heaters to warm the footballs during the game in violation of league policies, but no penalties were issued in that case and the media reaction was superficial.
The controversy was not only the dominant topic in the build-up to the Super Bowl, but was discussed beyond sports media. National Review and Rush Limbaugh provided social commentary. Limbaugh and fellow talk host Mark Levin compared the amount of attention devoted to the controversy with the amount devoted to the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the change of government in Yemen, to comment on the priorities of the American public.
Post-Super Bowl coverage
Deflategate continued to be a major news item following the Super Bowl and during the offseason, as the NFL issued its report and penalties were imposed and then appealed. As the story became increasingly less about football and more about science and legal process, it became common for the media to refer to "DeflateGate fatigue". Eventually the media began to mock itself in relation to the reporting of DeflateGate fatigue. Brady's successful appeal shortly before the start of the regular season reduced coverage whilst media attention returned to the games themselves, although coverage flared up again for the Primetime game between the Colts and the Patriots in Week 6 of the 2015 NFL season. Media coverage flared up again following the Second Circuit's decision on April 25, 2016 to reinstate Brady's four-game suspension. The Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy concluded: "Bottom line: The Patriots were doing it. They had a system of deflating footballs after the balls were inspected by officials. Any agenda-less person who reads the Wells Report would come away with no other conclusion. The texts were unexplainable."
On May 12, 2015, David Portnoy of Barstool Sports along with three other Barstool employees, protested Brady's suspension by handcuffing themselves in the lobby of NFL headquarters. They were arrested by the NYPD for trespassing."
In April 2016, 7 Patriots fans filed a lawsuit against the NFL over Deflategate, claiming the loss of draft picks constitutes fraud. Legal analysts do not expect the lawsuit to be successful, for many reasons, including that the plaintiffs appear to lack sufficient standing.
Claims regarding an equipment attendant and a "K" ball
On February 17, 2015, ESPN reporter Kelly Naqi reported that a Patriots ball attendant, Jim McNally, had tried "to introduce an unauthorized football"—lacking the markings found on approved footballs—into the game during the first half. That initial report did not indicate why or exactly when this happened, but did state that Kensil went to the officials' locker room at halftime to inspect the game balls, "in part because of the suspicions McNally's actions raised." Naqi later led a report on ESPN's program Outside the Lines, in which she interviewed an Indianapolis-based ex-referee who claimed that NFL officials had been "aware" of McNally for years and had raised concerns about him. This football was a "'K' ball", one of the footballs used for special teams plays.
Naqi's report was immediately contradicted by another ESPN reporter, Adam Schefter. Schefter's report cited sources stating that a "K" ball had gone missing, and that an NFL employee in charge of collecting game footballs for charity had handed the unmarked ball to McNally. Those sources also claimed that the NFL employee was fired after the game, as he had been taking footballs intended for charity and selling them at a profit "over a period of time".
Tom Brady served a 4-game suspension. He was not allowed to have any contact with the New England Patriots, including players, coaches or facilities during the suspension. The Patriots started off the season 3–1 with backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
The Patriots went on to finish the regular season 14-2, an 11-1 record after Brady returned as starting quarterback. In the playoffs the Patriots defeated the Houston Texans by a score of 34-16 in the divisional round, then defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 36-17, in the AFC Championship. After the Super Bowl, which the Patriots won over the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-28, Tom Brady was named Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time.
The NFL rules committee changed the inspection rules for the 24,960 footballs used during the season:
NFL Game Ball Procedures
On December 4, 2016, the New York Giants took possession of two Pittsburgh Steelers footballs after turnovers. They were tested on the sidelines by New York and found to have 11.4 and 11.8 pounds of pressure. The NFL declined to investigate because the chain of custody of footballs from the locker room to the field was not compromised and there was no formal complaint.
- National Football League controversies
- 2007 New England Patriots videotaping controversy
- 2018 Australian ball-tampering scandal
- List of scandals with "-gate" suffix
- Who Exactly Is Mike Kensil? AKA – The Ringleader of Deflategate
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Somewhere along the line, the debate over what happened in the hours and minutes leading up to the AFC championship game in January went beyond air pressure and weather conditions, and became a referendum on the character of Tom Brady and his franchise.
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