Tom Brady without question is one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL. He has won six Super Bowls, he has been named MVP of the Super Bowl on 4 occasions, he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player on three occasions. He even was a comeback player of the year in 2009. All these accolades were almost put into doubt in 2015 with the Deflategate incident that rocked the Football world.
For those who may not remember, it’s hard not to if you are an NFL fan, Deflategate was a controversy that arose when players of the Indianapolis Colts made claims that Tom Brady had ordered New England Patriots staff to intentionally deflate game balls for the AFC Championship Game.
The end result was a media frenzy where Tom Brady and the New England Patriots name were thrown into the mud, the incident even left the world of sport and went as high as the U.S. Court of Appeals. It’s something many Football fans, especially Colts fans have not forgotten and won’t soon forget. So what happened? Was Brady really involved? How did it end up in the U.S. Court of Appeals? Let us review the drama that was Deflategate.
Deflategate and the 2015 AFC Championship how it all began
On January 18, 2015, the Indianapolis Colts traveled to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Patriots for a ticket to play in Super Bowl XLIX. Before the start of the game the Colts had already notified the NFL that they suspected that the Patriots staff was not properly inflating the game balls, but other than making the claim they had no real proof. During the first half of play, Tom Brady threw an interception to Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, which Jackson later handed the ball over to a Colts equipment manager as a souvenir or as proof that the ball did not have sufficient air. After the play had taken place the Colts staff notified NFL Gameday Operations that they felt that the inflation level of the ball was off.
During halftime, NFL officials finally inspected the game day balls, it was there that Gerry Austin, a former NFL referee, had 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. Later on, reports would indicate that only 1 ball was below the correct inflation levels. Another NFL Official, Clete Blakeman, reported that five of the eleven balls used were below the 11.0-pound mark. None the less the balls were re-inflated at half time and the game continued.
On the field no issue was raised by the Colts, the game simply continued with the footballs being placed in circulation. The end result was a Patriots 45-7 win and a ticket to the Super Bowl. The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XLIX 28-24 against the Seattle Seahawks, but the controversy had only just started.
Deflategate scandal: the investigation begins
Investigation on the incident started around the week of January 22nd, 2015, Tom Brady was outspoken about the incident and called the accusations “ridiculous”. In a news conference on January 22, Brady denied any involvement and that the NFL had not contacted him in regards to any investigation.
On January 27, an anonymous league source made media aware that a Patriots locker room attendant was seen on surveillance video taking the 24 game footballs (12 from each team) into a restroom for approximately 90 seconds. The video was provided to the NFL by the New England Patriots the day after the game.
The Wells Report that implicated Tom Brady
On January 23, the NFL hired Manhattan attorney Ted Wells to investigate Deflategate in its entirety. Four months later the Wells Report was made public in which it concluded that it was "more probable than not" that New England Patriots equipment personnel were deliberately deflating game balls. The report suggested that Tom Brady was “more probable than not that he was "generally aware" of the deflation. The report also stated that The New England Patriots coaching staff, including, Bill Belichick, were not involved in the incident.
The report stated that locker-room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski "more probable than not" had deliberately released air from Patriots game balls after they were tested by game officials. In several texts between Jastremski and McNally, the two mentioned and joked about the deflation and having received gifts from Tom Brady to McNally. Tom Brady was a constant reference point in these texts implicating that he knew about the act. McNally referred to himself as "the deflator" in a text message to Jastremski in May 2014.
Tom Brady Public Enemy Number 1
Once the report was made public and Tom Brady had been directly implicated, the media literally took the ball and ran with it. While New England media dissected the terminology of the report and put the focus on the poor procedure the NFL has in checking their own game balls, the national media had made Brady a villain or worst classified him as a cheater. Many NFL pundits accused Brady outright as someone well aware that the deflation was happening, it could not have happened without him knowing about it.
Brady after the report was made public kept silent, his agent, Don Yee did criticize the report stating the investigators had jumped to conclusions. On May 12, Ted Wells defended his report saying Brady’s name was mentioned in the text by the two perpetrators and said texts were more than circumstantial evidence to implicate Brady.
The New England Patriots and accusations of cheating
This scandal was not the first time the New England Patriots were accused of wrongdoing. In 2007 the team was caught illegally filming the New York Jets coaching staff. They taped the coaches’ hand signals and matched them to plays run on the field. Coach Bill Belichick admitted that he'd been taping opposing coaching staffs ever since becoming a head coach in 2000.
The NFL fined Belichick $500,000, fined the team $250,000, and stripped the team of its first-round draft pick. While this was going on allegations surfaced that Belichick had also filmed a St. Louis Rams practice before Super Bowl XXXVI.
Tom Brady Gets Sanctioned by the NFL
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 was aware that Patriots employees were deflating footballs. The Patriots were 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.
The NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent wrote a direct letter to Brady stating: "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."
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.
The Appeals process begins to mixed results
Brady through his agent and lawyers appealed the decision, while the media’s reaction to the suspension was lukewarm, some deemed it fair others as harsh. 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. On June 28 Goodell announced that the NFL would uphold the suspension, stating that Brady had the cell phone which the investigators wanted to review “destroyed”
On June 29 Brady took to Facebook where he posted his disappointment that the NFL upheld their decision to suspend him 4 games. He claimed no wrongdoing and that words in the report like "probable" and "generally aware" should not be interpreted as misconduct. He went on to state he had replaced his “broken” cell phone for another after his attorneys made it clear to the NFL that his cell phone would not be handed over for the investigation.
In August Brady and the NFL Players Association met with the NFL in the United States District Court to discuss a possible settlement. No agreement was reached, and they went to court on August 19. During the trial, the judge asked the NFL what evidence it had linking Brady to the deflated footballs, the NFL lawyers responded that while there was no direct evidence that Brady knew that act was taking place, it was impossible for the player to not know the balls were deflated given some of the text messages involved.
What one judge found to be a lack of evidence another threw the book at Tom Brady
On September 3, the judge threw out Brady's suspension on the grounds of a lack of fair due process for Brady. The NFL announced it would appeal the decision.
Incredibly, an incident involving air in footballs, made it’s way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Circuit Judge stated 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. While Brady tried to appeal the decision, it was all for not as the petition was denied on July 13, 2016.
Deflategate Scandal: the Aftermath
Tom Brady, one the greatest NFL players of all time, taken all the way to federal court by the very league he excelled at, served his 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 NFL rules committee changed the inspection rules regarding game balls, while the Patriots went on to win Super Bowl LI, and Brady was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the game.
What happened to Tom Brady afterward?
Tom Brady’s legacy in the media has not diminished, while at the time he was scrutinized for his possible involvement in Deflategate his achievements afterward continue to endear him to the media and American sporting public.
In 2017, Brady was the cover athlete for Madden NFL 18. Brady won two more Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots and, at 43, he recently signed a contract to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.