If you haven’t read the Wells report yet, please go through the Executive Summary. It’s 20 pages of very entertaining reading.
By now, you’ve heard a lot reported in what I frankly believe is a very half-assed way. For example, the media has almost universally reported the Report’s finding that the Patriots “more probably than not” tried to deflate footballs for the AFC Championship game versus the Colts without the proper context. Fans are taking that frequently quoted comment to mean the evidence is somehow unclear and the report is only able to issue a sort of wishy-washy verdict on the events.
Far from it.
The footnote at the bottom of page 1 of the executive summary indicates clearly that the “standard of proof required to find that a violation of the competitive rules has occurred” is a “Preponderance of Evidence,” meaning that “as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.”
The report’s conclusion is thus that the totality of evidence meets the standard required. However, the report goes much further in terms of building a compelling case against the Patriots that can be summarized in bullet points:
- There is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Pats ownership, Bill Belichick, or the Head Equipment Manager.
- Officials Clubhouse Attendant Jim McNally brought the balls to the room for testing.
- 2 of the balls were found short of 12.5 PSI and were further inflated.
- When Anderson prepared to leave for the field, the balls could not be located.
- Anderson said it was the first time in 19 years that had occurred and was a breach of procedure.
- McNally had removed the balls with the permission of none of the officials.
- Video tape showed McNally leaving the officials locker room and heading towards the field.
- He went into a bathroom immediately next to the tunnel leading to the playing field.
- He locked the door to the bathroom (not sure how they know this) and stayed inside for 1 minute, 40 seconds.
- He then left the bathroom and took the balls to the field.
- He had exchanged texts for a number of months with the Patriots equipment assistant (John Jastremski) primarily responsible for the inflation of balls.
- The texts contain a number of incriminating references to deflation, needles, and cash/shoes in exchange for his efforts. The texts are contained in the report and are entertaining reading.
- Immediately before the Pats and Ravens game the previous weekend, McNally received 2 footballs autographed by Brady and Brady autographed a game-worn Pats jersey McNally had previously obtained.
- During the second quarter, one of Brady’s passes was intercepted and Colts equipment personnel tested the ball for pressure.
- The Colts had already raised a pre-game concern about air pressure of the balls.
- A senior officiating supervisor, Alberto Riveron decided both teams’ balls would be tested at halftime
- At halftime, all 11 remaining Pats balls and 4 of the Colts balls were each tested (twice per ball) by 2 alternate game officials
- Each of the 11 Pats balls registered below the minimum 12.5 PSI.
- Each of the 4 Colts balls registered above 12.5 PSI on at least 1 of the 2 gauges
- Prior to the 2nd half, all 11 Pats balls were reinflated to the appropriate level.
- McNally was interviewed by NFL security before he left the game
- McNally stated he walked directly to the field and nothing unusual happened
- In subsequent interviews, McNally provided varying explanations for the bathroom stop and his decision not to use the bathroom in the Officials Locker Room or the adjacent Chain Gang Locker Room.
- Exponent, a leading consulting engineering firm was hired to assist including the former Chairman of the Princeton Physics Department.
- Exponent confirmed that reduction in air pressure was expected with lower temperature.
- Exponent opined the Ideal Gas Law (and variations) could not explain the amount of air pressure drop in the Pats balls.
- Exponent also could not explain the difference in air pressure drop between the Pats and Colts balls and opined the difference to be statistically significant.
- Exponent also opined that the air pressure in 13 footballs could readily be released using a needle in under 1 minute, 40 seconds.
- The Report then includes the comment “Even putting aside the experimental results, we believe that our conclusions are supported by the evidence in its entirety.”
- The Report cites 2 key phrases in texts by McNally. One where he refers to himself as the “deflator”, and another where he states he was “not going to espn……..yet.”
- Jastremski spoke with McNally by phone 3 times (total 37 minute) in the hours after the game.
- Jastremski also communicated with Brady after the game.
- The Report steps completely from Preponderance of Evidence on page 16: “Indeed, in our view, a contrary conclusion requires the acceptance of an implausible number of communications and events as benign coincidences”
- The Report recognizes that some of the texts are an attempt at humor, but that McNally and Jastremski were making jokes based on actual events.
- The Report states that they are unable to reach conclusions as to when the practice of releasing air began, but McNally referred to himself as “the deflator” in texts prior to the start of the 2014 season.
- The Report indicates there is less direct evidence linking Brady to the tampering, but that nevertheless, they believe it “more probable than not” that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate deflation.
- Evidence of Brady’s awareness included indirect references in texts between Jastremski and McNally as well as 6 phone calls between Brady and Jastremski from January 19-21 when the suspicions of ball tampering became public on January 19th.
- Jastremski had not called or texted Brady (per information on Jastremski’s cell phone) for more than 6 months prior.
- Brady also took the “unprecedented step” of inviting Jastremski into the QB room (“essentially Brady’s office”) in Gillette Stadium for the first time in Jastremski’s 20-year career with the Patriots.
- The Report further opines “based on our interviews and assessment of McNally and Jastremski, we also do not believe they would personally and unilaterally engage in such conduct in the absence of Brady’s awareness and consent.”
- Brady denied any knowledge of or involvement in any efforts to deflate game balls subsequent to pre-game inspection.
- Brady denied knowing McNally’s name or anything about his game-day responsibilities, a claim the Report terms “implausible” based on contradictory testimony from Jastremski.
- The Report further states “McNally also told NFL security he had been personally told by Brady of Brady’s inflation level preference.”
- The Report concludes by noting the Patriots cooperation throughout the investigation except…
- Counsel for the Patriots refused to make McNally available for a follow-up interview requested despite their offer to meet at any time and place convenient for McNally.
- The Report opines that “failure by the Patriots and its counsel to produce McNally for the requested follow-up interview violated the club’s obligations to cooperate with the investigation under the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of League Rules and was inconsistent with public statements made by the Patriots pledging full cooperation with the investigation.”
- Although Tom Brady answered questions voluntarily, he refused to make available any documents or electronic communications, even though the request was limited to the subject matter of the investigation.
- The inability to review communication in Brady’s possession “potentially limited the discovery of relevant evidence and was not helpful to the investigation.”
- At various points, counsel for the Patriots questioned the integrity and objectivity of game officials, various NFL executives, and NFL security officials.
So does the suffix fit?
Watergate was the investigation of a break-in to gain an unfair campaign advantage. Deflategate was the investigation of a breach of control procedure to gain an unfair game advantage.
In both cases, the cover-up attempts are much more damning than the evidence itself.
It’s an open and shut “gate”.