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Quick Inside Slant: The Offseason

Impressions of the 2015 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

Yes, I know football is on our doorstep tapping his feet and screaming for us to hurry up with the motor still running – but before we begin, let’s take a look at what has happened since Pete Carroll lost the Superbowl. Sure, lots of moves have been made and whatnot, but I think we all know this off-season has been dominated by one singular story. I’m of course talking about Tim Tebow being signed by the Eagles.

Roger Goodell was embarrassed by the New York judge that not only overturned the suspension he issues to Tom Brady but basically said he was completely incompetent and has no clue how to hand out just punishments.

Roger Goodell was embarrassed by the New York judge that not only overturned the suspension he issues to Tom Brady but basically said he was completely incompetent and has no clue how to hand out just punishments.

In case this column is the only source of your football information – which happens to be the case with my Nana – here are the Cliff Notes on the epic scandal known as “Deflategate.” The NFL decided to go after the league’s biggest superstar for the football cheating equivalent of rolling through a stop sign. Millions of dollars were wasted trying to figure out how complicit Tom Brady was in the lower-than-legal PSI of some footballs during a playoff game. Roger Goodell took away some draft picks, fined the Patriots some money, and THEN suspended Tom Brady for FOUR GAMES – 25% of the season – for a crime he “more likely than not” committed, according to a report by an “independent” investigator, paid by the NFL, who was – if you were paying attention – trying to prove Brady’s guilt. Surprise! When Brady appealed the suspension, Goodell put himself in charge of the appeal process, despite being a witness in the case and having just dispensed the original suspension. This is like when your mom tells you that you can’t go to the movies with your friends, so then you go back to your mom ten minutes later to see if she changed her mind, because 32 of your elders collectively decided you didn’t need a dad. The suspension was upheld. Surprise!

After all that mess, Brady and the NFLPA took matters outside of the NFL. After basically begging them to come to an agreement on their own – which never came close to happening – Judge Berman ruled that the NFL abused their power and nullified the entire suspension. Of course he did. Because he lives outside the NFL collective bargaining agreement, in a world of common sense.

In speaking with people about this situation, I know one thing for certain. People that didn’t like Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots going into this scandal think he deserves to be punished. People who like Brady and the Pats think the NFL is out to get him. Apparently, the emotional and irrational world of fandom still takes precedence in legal matters. In full disclosure, I tend to lean both toward the Pats and away from the NFL’s totalitarianism. But mostly, I tend to lean toward logic.

Here are a few facts that I cannot prove but are nonetheless true. Brady deflated the balls. He’s probably guilty on some level, and he’s probably been doing it for years. Same with a third or maybe half the other quarterbacks in the league. It probably happened gradually over the course of a few years, but it’s something the rest of the league just kind of accepts as gamesmanship. Not a big deal. Rolling through a stop sign. Then the Patriots brilliantly exploited a loophole in the rules to come back against the Ravens in the divisional playoff weekend last year. Obviously hurt, John Harbaugh complained about the Patriots being deceptive and probably felt a little betrayed and a lot outsmarted. So he combated that by telling the league – or perhaps just his buddy Chuck Pagano – that the Patriots were using underinflated balls and we need to catch them in the act! And that’s how we got the NFL’s equivalent of the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

Where the NFL started to go off the rails is when they ran a sting operation to try to catch the Pats in the act. They intentionally allowed the Pats to play with underinflated balls for a half of play in the AFC championship game (again, a fact I cannot prove). This should have its own Wells investigation (Come on, NFLPA. Do it!). The NFL had the refs conduct a halftime PSI check on the balls, which determined that 11 of the 12 balls were underinflated. They thought this was the key piece of evidence they needed to finally get those scheming Patriots. Only a mid-game investigation like this had NEVER EVER TAKEN PLACE BEFORE. So there was no control for this experiment. These guys would have failed sophomore chemistry. And just like chemistry, they already had the answer. They just had to figure out how they got there.

Tom Brady won his appeal, now we can stop talking about something that wasn't even a big deal anyway.

Tom Brady won his appeal, now we can stop talking about something that wasn’t even a big deal anyway.

The NFL was out for blood from the beginning and hid behind the phrase “integrity of the game” because they thought people couldn’t see through a big buzz word like that. And they thought the wording of the CBA made Roger Goodell a god, able to do whatever he pleased with his little world. As long as there wouldn’t be a huge public outcry, which is why they needed at least a kernel of evidence to show the people. And it would have worked, if not for the eventual descent into the realm of the real world, where logic resides.

Roger Goodell has been given the power to hand out punishments based on whatever he feels at the moment. With the exception of some drug-related guidelines, there are no rules to these suspensions. He seems to hand them out like I used to dress in college. If it was nice out yesterday, I would wear shorts that day. I found that I was often cold or hot or wet. If Goodell gives out a punishment that seems too light, he will overreact and go tough on the next guy. He also reacts like a street thug being stepped to when people don’t bend to his will. This is likely what really got Brady his four-game verdict. The NFL’s hubris.

I’m not sure why people are so mad at Goodell. He’s not real. He’s the cheap piece of plastic the owners hold up at a Gallagher concert so they don’t get watermelon on their thousand-dollar shoes. If he goes down, it doesn’t really matter. He’ll just be replaced by another high-priced bouncer. He is the collective voice of his 32 bosses, which is why he went so hard after Brady and the Pats. Once word broke of this stop sign scandal, the other teams saw an opportunity to get after those damn clever winners. “Integrity of the game!” they all shouted to themselves until it lost all meaning and they forgot that they were really just arguing about a slightly flatter-than-normal ball. A rule that shouldn’t even really be a rule. Who cares? Why wouldn’t you let the quarterback have the best chance at completing a pass in this offense-driven league? And don’t the refs handle these balls every play too? And none of them ever thought they might be a bit flat?

In the end, this is a story about an NFL who thinks that their shield is just so unbreakable that it’s impervious to everything, even logic. Here’s proof. The independent judge ruled that Goodell’s appeal process was “fundamentally unfair,” having basically hidden investigative files, witness interview notes, and one of the lead investigators from Brady – and what Goodell was doing was dispensing “his own brand of industrial justice.” Yet, the NFL is filing an appeal on that decision, basically saying that the CBA, the way it’s worded, allows them to dispense justice that is unfair. Or something like that. Again, it’s the NFL’s hubris leading this wacko train into Ridiculoustown. What’s the point, now? You didn’t prove anything definitively about Brady’s cooperation in this matter, and the ruling today didn’t even really exonerate Brady – it just said the NFL was abusing their power. Let it go. And if this ever goes to an appeal hearing, Judge Berman better be the one overseeing it. Let’s see how that shoe fits. But in the meantime, continuing to seek legal action for this minor traffic violation is shining a huge light on the NFL’s inadequacies and their motivations. If you really legitimately care about the integrity of the game, give up and shut up. Time to move on.

Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Quick Inside Slant: The Offseason”
  1. James H. says:

    Good lord, I was tired of this case the week or so after it broke. I’ll say upfront I am a Tom Brady hater and have a mild dislike for the rest of the Patriots organization, but I do actually believe in “innocent until proven guilty” and I didn’t think the evidence in this case was airtight — so I didn’t think Brady deserved to be punished, even if they felt he was guilty. I do think it’s about what you can prove and the NFL had nothing but circumstantial evidence.

    But beyond that, another reason I just didn’t care was that the Patriots already won the Super Bowl. Let’s say Brady is guilty and all that — which team wouldn’t take their QB being suspended for 4 games to win a championship? (This is assuming ball deflating is the massive advantage some nutty people are making it out to be.) They already won, so any punishment after that seems pointless.

    But it doesn’t really seem like ball deflating is that huge an advantage — Brady defenders pointed out that he played better AFTER the balls were inflated to their proper levels in the AFC Championship game. About the only compelling evidence it gave them an advantage is that the Patriots had a ridiculously low fumble rate. While some might chalk this up to coaching, I’ve read that low-fumble players return to fumbling at the average rate once leaving the organization. If this connection is true (I’m stressing that I said ‘IF’), then I think that’s a pretty unfair advantage.

    But again, the evidence isn’t conclusive and there’s no smoking gun, so I still don’t feel the NFL should have moved to punish. If this is that big a deal, they really just need to change the ball handling procedures — take away teams’ right to “work on the ball” before games and have it done by an impartial outsider or just have the balls inspected by the refs prior to the game and only allow teams to touch them while on the field. The course of action should have been, “We can’t know what happened for sure, but we need to remove any opportunity for players to cheat going forward.”

    And finally, I do understand why some people feel the Patriots shouldn’t be crying foul on this — as pointed out, the owners, NFLPA, etc. all signed on to this system of discipline and the Patriots never had a problem with it until it effected them. If it’s okay for the Saints or Ben Rothelisberger and whoever else to be punished by this poorly designed system of discipline, why should Tom Brady and the Patriots get a free pass when they happen to be the target of Goodell’s ire?

    But I guess that it’s good that it’ll force the NFL to reconsider how discipline is handled. I’m thinking a panel of independent third-party mediators, with appeals heard by a separate group of mediators. Of course, the Patriots could just take those people to court as well if they don’t like a future ruling.

    Anyway, I hope they drop attempts to appeal. Let this tedious BS die.

    • All valid points, especially in light of it coming from a self-proclaimed Brady hater. I too, feel that ball deflating is no big deal (as I mentioned), but it was the sticking point of the “integrity of the game” violation that the NFL clung to, and I do feel that cheating needs to be punished. If it can be proven, and if everyone else isn’t doing it too. Which they may not be, but I doubted it’s just the Patriots. I’d also say that “if it was an actual advantage,” but an attempt at cheating should be considered just as egregious. And that’s where I think this is best compared to Watergate. Both got caught cheating (kinda) when they didn’t even need to.

      Anyway, thanks for reading. I promise I won’t write about it again. Actually, I already did. But after this, I won’t. Maybe.

      • James H. says:

        I agree with you that cheating, even if for something seemingly minor, should be punished. It’s definitely a infraction in which intent is the paramount concern.

        As said, the only thing I think is suspicious is the fumble-rates of Pats players. I do think having a softer ball allows you to dig your fingers into it for a better grip.

        But again, without concrete proof, the point is moot.