The New England Patriots are worse than Hitler. That is, if you believe the overwhelming negativity directed at the Patriots within the past week. The reasoning behind this: after last Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Colts, reports surfaced of an investigation against the Patriots with regards to ball inflation. This basically means that the Patriots are being ACCUSED of cheating. Not a game-determining cheat mind you, nothing as serious as that, but still – cheating is cheating and the integrity (scoff, excuse me) of the NFL sport must be protected. I don’t mean to undermine what the Patriots MIGHT have done. Cheating is cheating and, IF found guilty – they should face appropriate consequences. “Deflategate” as it has come to be called, has called back into question much more serious issues of integrity, however, in my mind at least. The integrity of major sports journalism is under question… and it might be doing worse than the Patriots.
This article will focus primarily on ESPN and Sports Illustrated, two of the larger and more trusted sources of sports journalism in America – and specifically their handling of the DEVELOPING Deflategate situation.
The Patriots are not liked around the nation. One does not have to look far to find evidence of this. Part of the hatred has foundation. In 2007, the New England Patriots were found guilty in Spygate, essentially cheating by recording more signals than they were supposed to from the other team. Were they the only culprit of this: probably not, but still – cheating is cheating and I, as a New England Patriots fan, found the punishment fair. No one is above the rules.
Part of the hatred comes from something else though: the Patriots are a good football team. No, that’s an understatement. They are a great football team. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady might be the best coach-quarterback combo in the history of the game. I don’t say that just as a fan, there are numbers to support this.
Okay, cool – the Pats rock, how does this matter? Well, sports journalism is made up partly of former players: people who have played largely within the past ten years… also known as: a lot of people the Patriots beat. If you think this does not matter, if you think that athletes and former athletes do not have huge egos – you are fooling yourself. So right away, the POTENTIAL exists for bias. I am not going to accuse anyone of anything without evidence…
Want some evidence?
Let’s talk about Jerome Bettis, an excellent former player who now does analysis for ESPN. I have zero issue on Bettis reporting facts. Here is a link to his video discussing the Ray Rice incident, which occurred at the beginning of the season. Wow, okay – he is very supportive. Granted, all the facts were not known at that time but he appears to be approaching the situation with an open mind. Cool…
Here he is on the Deflategate INVESTIGATION:
Holy f*ck. What happened to the calm, thoughtful, contemplative Bettis that we saw earlier? Patriots are known felons? Sir, even by the loftiest of standards: the Patriots have never broken the law. Rules, yes – but not law. These are both videos taken from (at the time) ongoing investigations. One is about balls being properly inflated, one is about a woman being beaten unconscious. Excuse me for saying but: your passion appears misplaced.
Now let’s talk about Michael Rosenberg, a New York journalist who writes for Sports Illustrated. Rosenberg has a past of putting things in perspective. He fairly called out and condemned the handling of the Adrian Peterson situation from earlier in the year. Rosenberg has struck me as an intelligent and thoughtful journalist, but one of his articles goes much too far. I would bother to tear apart the piece he wrote on the Patriots after INITIAL REPORTS of Deflategate surfaced, but someone else beat me to it. Journalism is not about reporting thoughts, or rumors, or making wild accusations based on what you read on the Internet. That’s what blogging is for. Journalism is about reporting the facts. Judgement is left to others. There is not one fact in Rosenberg’s list of wild accusations against New England, and yet this was posted on a very reputable sports site.
Okay, back to ESPN. Over the past week, I have seen headlines like “Don’t Believe Brady” (later changed to “Hard to Believe Brady”). Again this gives the impression that the Patriots have already been found guilty. The have not. In fact, if you’re wondering why I haven’t gone more into the facts of the case, it is because they keep changing. I will get to that in a sec, but I wanted to draw attention to one more fun article from ESPN first.
Let me be beyond clear: truth is not an opinion. It never has, nor never will be influenced by the common consensus. So why does this article exist? Maybe to show that around the world, people are not taking the Patriots at their word? Hard to believe that ESPN readers wouldn’t trust them after reading headlines like those I just mentioned.
The point is that the coverage has been horrible. Want the facts of the case? Colts defensive player D’Qwell Jackson DEFINITIVELY started the investigation into the possibility of deflated balls… until he didn’t. Bill Belichick was DEFINITELY the mastermind behind the cheating… until it was (and currently is) DEFINITELY Tom Brady. With all this disbelief going around – against the Patriots, against the NFL, it seems that no one is levying it against the people who are reporting the news. What is going on? How do we even know there was ever a scandal and not some accident?
Let’s say (and this is just a scenario based on known facts): 36 balls were inflated for the game, 11 of them came out below the guidelines. Tom Brady, being the hometown quarterback gets first pick. Brady, who has already stated his liking of under-inflated balls, chooses those he feels least inflated (not knowing that it is below league regulation). Then Andrew Luck chooses, then the remaining 12 go to special teams. Saying this happens is admitting that NFL officials made a mistake (hard to believe I know, especially in this playoff season). But it is just that: a mistake. Doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as a cheating scandal, but this may be the truth.
The truth that does not appear to matter since the Patriots were found guilty by the media on day one. Come on guys, we get that you don’t like us. I don’t like the Yankees, the (New York) Giants, or either of the Manning brothers – but I would never call any of them cheaters without all the facts.
For anyone wondering: the NFL is currently finding a hard time linking the deflated balls to any purposeful wrongdoing. Doesn’t matter, ESPN and Sports Illustrated have already ensured that the Patriots reputation has suffered. Guilty until proven innocent… and if innocent then conspiracy. Hey journalists, I know you might take offense from a Patriots-fan and internet blogger telling you this… but do your jobs.
The appropriate punishment, as long ago determined by the NFL, is a $25,000 fine by the way… in case anyone was wondering. Rules should not ever be broken… but you can kill someone or you can go 5 miles over the speed limit. This is the latter.