Before the NFL handed down its multi-tiered punishments in the Deflategate situation, I went on record that a sanction was necessary for Tom Brady if the quarterback was indeed involved in directing the underinflating of game footballs. My thought was that the spanking should constitute two games, no more. The issue was the integrity of the game and when you compromise that, even if “integrity of the game” is an elusive phrase for the NFL, there are necessarily consequences.
With the release of the Ted Wells report and the fallout, and an overnight to consider it, the opinion stands: two games for Brady. Not the four of the initial decision, which likely gets reduced anyway.
[MORE DEFLATEGATE: Tom Brady suspended four games, Patriots lose two draft picks]
But along with that are some other impressions and thoughts. In no particular order:
* The Patriots, fined $1 million and losing two draft choices, obviously are being punished for a body of work, not just this incident. I have no problem with that; repeat offenders earn progressively harsher punishments, and should, since the “repeat” says that the first (second? Third?) message didn’t get through.
* Brady’s deflation and it is his; no equipment staffer tinkers with such things as footballs without instructions from the centerpiece of the franchise. Getting caught earns punishment from the league; doing it without Brady’s blessing earns a beheading.
* Deflating game footballs ranks with using a corked bat. When the problem was discovered, as it was, based on the report, during a game, Brady should have been ejected or the game forfeited. Conviction without due process? Yep. But there isn’t due process when an official flags holding or pass interference, and violations of rules at the NFL level should be dealt with on a zero-tolerance basis.
[FANTASY FOOTBALL: Fallout from Brady's suspension]
* The NFL’s inconsistent discipline – Brady for involvement in underinflating footballs is getting double the suspension that was initially put on Ray Rice for what ultimately qualified as criminal battery – is an entirely separate issue from Brady’s or the Patriots’ sanctions. Inconsistent punishment does not mean that there shouldn’t be any. Part of the problem here is that the NFL is dealing with a lot of first-time misdeeds, whether Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate or whatevergate. Of course there will be inconsistencies.
And the main reflection…
My respect for former Bears quarterback Jim Miller and his agent Joe Linta, and former Northwestern and San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Luis Castillo and his agent Mike McCartney just went up another small step. Miller was suspended four games at the end of the 1999 season for a substance violation. Miller stood up and acknowledged what he’d done (using a recovery supplement with a banned ingredient) and that was the end of it.
Castillo hurt his elbow early during Northwestern’s 2004 season. He started using androstenedione as part of his rehab and recovery, and tested positive at the 2005 NFL Combine. Rather than deny-deny-deny, Castillo acknowledged the misstep. The Chargers still made him their No. 1 pick (28th overall), in part because of the honesty.
Brady had a chance to do something similar and went the other way, even when other quarterbacks acknowledged there are problems with football inflations, and even some who tinker, as Brady had.
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The greatest mistake Lance Armstrong made was less the cheating and doping that he did to become a seven-time Tour de France winner, but rather failing to do what Castillo, Miller and others have done, and get out in front of the situation the right way. How much different would Armstrong’s personal legacy have been had he stood before microphones and cameras and said, “Yes, I did it, and we ALL did it (the vast majority of top cyclists in fact did do it). We felt we had to. And it’s time to put an end to it. Starting with me.”
Forget Armstrong’s arrogance or whatever. A lot of that was part of his cover-up. The reality is that we as Americans are, first, pretty forgiving if you’re honest and say you’ll go straight. And we also have a strange, sometimes humorous soft spot for a lot of our bad boys. Jesse James? Butch Cassidy? Gaylord Perry? You get the point.
None of this absolves anyone of wrongdoing, or of lying or fact-fudging to cover something up. But Brady didn’t lie to a grand jury, and Robert Kraft didn’t undermine peace talks in the Middle East. And yes, the NFL has significant work to do on punishment guidelines, although I’m not sure what discipline committee would’ve worked out a punishment for under- or over-inflating, which Aaron Rodgers prefers. Best guess is that the league will indeed go through its rule book and assign a penalty for violating those rules, just as it does for on-field misdeeds.