The punishment for #DeflateGate came down yesterday, and proved that the NFL is willing to suspend the faces of its league for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game. Tom Brady—widely regarded as the NFL’s Golden Boy—will not see the field for a quarter of next season, receiving a 4-game suspension for his role in deflating footballs during last year’s AFC Championship game. The Patriots organization was also penalized, ordered to forfeit future draft picks—a 1st in 2016 and a 4th in 2017—as well as $1 million. While the findings of the Wells Report highly suggested that Brady would receive a suspension, the NFL brought the hammer down, and it reeks of atonement for past punishment failures.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been the target of worldwide vitriol since the Ray Rice debacle (and alleged cover-up), and with a spate of domestic violence offenses of late, he seemed determined to prove to the world that no player was immune from punishment—regardless of the severity of the offense.
I stated back in January that while Brady broke the rules, this much-ado-about-nothing nontroversy was a borne of media intrigue. Players have historically looked for an extracurricular means of gaining a competitive edge, such as pitchers adding their own special “mix” to baseballs for added “grip.” Adjusting the PSI on a football—an equipment violation at its core—warrants punishment, but 4 games, draft picks and a fine is excessive.
One has to speculate if Goodell was simply forced into handing down a punishment disproportionate to the offense. Media-types discussed his cozy relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and pondered his ability to be impartial. Previous penalties were famously deemed as extremely soft. Roger Goodell needed to prove he could be an effective—and objective—commissioner.
Roger Goodell needed a sacrificial lamb and a public relations win.
So while hordes of football fans outside of New England are celebrating the Brady suspension, a look behind the veil reveals darker motivations at work. Making an example out of the Patriots was a PR necessity for Goodell and the NFL to regain trust and credibility from the fans, but in this case, the punishment did not fit the crime.