SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Just when you think that the N.F.L. has temporarily halted its descent into the maelstrom, here comes an old reliable, the New England Patriots.
In an almost hilarious Keystone Cop-ish turn of events, the Patriots are being accused of deflating footballs. When the news broke early Monday morning, it sounded silly. We were still talking about Seattle’s miraculous victory over Green Bay and the Patriots’ 45-7 flogging of the Colts, a game in which New England could have probably used a medicine ball on offense and still won.
But by Tuesday, no one was laughing, and the Patriots, the team found guilty of illegally videotaping the Jets in the Spygate scandal, were once again under suspicion of not abiding by the rules. Two news outlets — ESPN and The Boston Globe — reported that the N.F.L. had found that some of the balls the Patriots used during the A.F.C. championship game had in fact been partially deflated, the motivation apparently being that the balls would be easier to grip and throw and catch in the wet conditions on Sunday night in Foxborough.
The Globe claims to have obtained a letter from the N.F.L. stating that officials inspected the balls used by the Patriots at halftime of Sunday’s game and found some that were improperly inflated. ESPN said 11 of 12 balls were found to be underinflated.
The argument now being made on the Patriots’ behalf if that even if the balls were underinflated, it hardly matters, since they won the game by such a substantial margin. But that point of view misses the larger point — whether New England, the pre-eminent N.F.L. team of the last 15 years, went into the game intending to cheat.
When it comes to the N.F.L. these days, I am neither enraged nor surprised by any issues that arise as the league keeps its multibillion-dollar engine roaring. I am more or less numb. To a large extent, enjoying the N.F.L. these days requires one to put aside any high standards — which is just what plenty of people do every Sunday and will continue to do.
Here is a league that deceived players and withheld information about long-term health risks involved in playing the game. The N.F.L. still has not come clean with an admission about just how stark the physical realities of the game are.
Here is a league whose commissioner could watch a woman being dragged out of an elevator by a player and initially react by issuing a fine and very modest two-game suspension. It was only after a full video account of what happened became available to the public that an embarrassed N.F.L was forced into doing what it initially should have done and punished the player far more harshly.
Of course, by then it was too late, as an arbitrator ruled that the double punishment was “arbitrary” and overturned it.
You can argue that in comparison to head injuries on the field and domestic violence off it, the deflating of footballs — if indeed it happened — is a minor issue, maybe even a somewhat silly one. And yet, even cheating on this level is just more evidence of the ongoing erosion of the N.F.L.’s soul — and of ours, too, for being such enthusiastic consumers of this tarnished product.
Meanwhile, if the N.F.L. concludes that the Patriots did take air out of its footballs, the question becomes what type of punishment Commissioner Roger Goodell should invoke.
A fine levied against the Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick? Unless it is for an unheard-of amount of money, that is not likely to be an impediment. After all, Belichick was fined $500,oo0 in the Spygate case, and the Patriots had to pay $250,000 and forfeit a first-round draft pick. But that didn’t make much of a dent — less than a decade later, here they are in trouble again.
Goodell could, of course, try to make a real statement and suspend Belichick for the upcoming Super Bowl. But more likely, the N.F.L. will turn to its familiar playbook and go for the wallets again, and call it a day.
Which leaves another question: At what point does the Patriots’ owner, Robert K. Kraft, get tired of this? Or maybe that’s the point: He doesn’t get tired. Maybe he rather digs having a coach who will do anything to win, whether he has to or not.
The Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since Spygate, although they came very close twice. After Sunday’s crushing victory over the Colts, Kraft must have been ecstatic, knowing that he was one game from holding up the championship trophy for the fourth time as an owner.
Then Kraft woke up Monday to find his team accused of cheating in the most absurd sort of way. And why would the Patriots feel compelled to cheat like this?
On Monday, I heard an interview on a local Boston radio station with Tom Brady, the Patriots’ revered quarterback, who laughed at the suggestion that air was intentionally let out of the balls he threw for completion after completion on Sunday night. “I think I’ve heard it all at this point,” Brady said.
If the balls were deflated on purpose, what he should hear Goodell saying is: “You’re going to have to win the Super Bowl without Belichick.”
For a change, let the joke be on New England.