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Deflategate: Patriots Made into Scapegoat for League Cheating

Bram BerkowitzContributor IIJanuary 26, 2015

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick
Tom Brady and Bill BelichickJim Rogash/Getty Images

In Sunday’s Boston Globe paper, in his article about the New England Patriots and Deflategate, sportswriter Bob Ryan makes an eye-opening statement.

The columnist argues, “The truth of the matter is that had the alleged 'cheating' team been any other NFL club, it would have been a footnote item in the Tuesday morning papers, the entire matter having been settled by noontime the day before.”

Ryan is absolutely right. The New England Patriots have become the scapegoat for wide-scale and common cheating found in the NFL.

Never has any NFL team been so harshly and unequivocally targeted by the league. At this point, the NFL’s investigation has turned into a quest for vengeance.

No longer does anyone suggest that Deflategate had any impact on the outcome of the AFC Championship Game. The purpose of the investigation is to detect any rule-breaking or foul play that might damage the virtue of the league.

But in actuality, scandals like Spygate and Deflategate focus less on upholding the integrity of the league and more on undermining the New England Patriots, a team that has enjoyed incredible success in the last decade-and-a-half.

The Investigation

Saying the NFL is out for vengeance may sound ridiculous, but beginning with the first news of the investigation regarding Deflategate, the NFL was ready to pounce on the Patriots as soon as they had the ammunition.

On January 19, a source within the NFL leaked the story to WTHR’s Bob Kravitz almost instantly following the game. 

Kravitz was so excited he had something to report on other than the Colts’ depressing loss, he broke the news before he knew what was going on. In his initial report, Kravitz stated that a softer deflated football would be tougher to throw, where in fact the opposite is true.

Immediately, this is a red flag. It shows Kravitz was so keen to release the story that he did so before confirming crucial details.

Furthermore, this scenario is oddly bizarre because the NFL did not address the deflated football issue earlier. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter (h/t SB Nation), the Colts notified the NFL about the potential of the Patriots deflating footballs after their November 16 regular-season game.

However, the NFL was quiet, and no known investigation took place; not even a warning was issued to the Patriots.

What makes this unusual is that the NFL does not always act in such secrecy. In fact, just this season, the league handled a related rule violation in a much different manner.

According to ESPN, the league issued a warning to the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers when Fox cameras caught both teams using heaters to warm up footballs in freezing temperatures, which is in violation of league rules.

Yet for the Patriots, the NFL did nothing after November 16 almost as if they were trying to spring a trap and catch the Patriots red-handed. This shows a lack of consistency from the league when dealing with rule violations.

The Patriots Are Not Alone 

Make no mistake, if the Patriots are found guilty of having the intent to alter air pressure in the footballs, then they should be held accountable. But if we are looking at just the intent to break the rules, then why should they be the only one?

As Deflategate has been played up to glaringly high levelsleading off network news segments and trending on Facebook for days at a time—past incidents of football deflation have conversely received little attention.

In an interview with Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Tribune (h/t SB Nation), Brad Johnson, former quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, says he paid $7,500 to alter footballs in Super Bowl XXXVII. “I paid some guys off to get the balls right," Johnson admitted. "I went and got all 100 footballs, and they took care of all of them.”

Even though Johnson came forward with this confession several years ago, it did not garner national attention until Deflategate, where only 11 footballs were altered.

The balls may not have been as profoundly changed as the ones used by the Patriots, but again, if we are looking at the intent to cheat, it is amazing that this was so downplayed until now, especially considering Johnson used a bribe.

It is hypocritical for the media to draw such attention to Deflategate when it is clear they failed to do so regarding the Brad Johnson incident.

Same Crap Different Day

This is not the first time the Patriots have taken the blame for a cheating scandal. Of course I am referring to Spygate, the instance in which Bill Belichick was caught illegally filming signals and fined a whopping $500,000.

Spygate is the main reason why the Patriots are held to a higher standard today, and also why the rest of the NFL would like to see the Patriots reprimanded for Deflategate.

But again, in the case of Spygate, similarly to Deflategate, you have more than one witness confirming the Patriots were not alone in their actions. As former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said in a radio appearance on 93.7 in Pittsburgh, stealing signals is something “everyone tries to do.”

But hey, one expert witness would never hold up in court, so let's hear testimony from another.

When speaking on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Felger and Mazz Show, former NFL coach Dick Vermeil also gave his opinion on Spygate. "I don’t know if everyone was doing it, but everyone might’ve had a method of trying to do it," Vermeil told 98.5 FM. "Maybe he did it better than everyone else. OK? And I’ll tell you this: In all honesty, I’ve coached as a head coach 15 years and an assistant four years, I know some things that have been done in the National Football League and I could document them, if I wanted to, that are far worse than that ever came close to being."

Not one, but at least two experts who can directly relate to and simulate the conditions Bill Belichick was in put Spygate into context, and yet the Patriots are still singled out and strictly punished.

In this 2007 controversy, the Patriots took the fall for a multiple-offender case. Now, it would appear they are being targeted for a second go-round in Deflategate.

Ultimately, when push comes to shove, the Patriots may have deflated footballs, violating NFL policy. If they have, then they should face the music. But they certainly should not have to face it alone or with the level of severity currently being directed at them. Many others have committed similar crimes, and the Patriots should not be the sole bearer of blame.