SAN FRANCISCO -- Tried to get an answer from Roger Goodell on Wednesday. Wound up feeling like a bird that flew into a plate-glass window.
Goodell gave the appearance of being open and accessible at his press conference ending these owner’s meetings. He wasn’t. He hid behind the pithy investigation of Ted Wells and sidestepped questions about leaks from his office that wound up being the dropped cigarette leading to the forest fire of Deflategate.
Carrying the NFL’s water for 243 pages in his report, Wells never pulled back the curtain on the demeanor of the NFL’s Deflategate infantrymen -- Mike Kensil, Dave Gardi and others -- who commenced the investigation after a Colts equipment man took a PSI measurement of a Patriots football on the Colts sideline.
Nor did Wells address the damage done by inaccurate information that was leaked to ESPN indicating that 11 of the 12 Patriots balls were found to be “inflated significantly below” the NFL’s requirements.
That report, from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, had people grabbing the torches and pitchforks. Meanwhile, away from the eyes of the public, Gardi was sending an e-mail to Patriots owner Robert Kraft that misled Kraft into believing the footballs had been drastically altered.
There’s no way to know how the investigation would have unfolded had the leaks -- which certainly didn’t come from Foxboro -- not churned up public outrage. But it’s interesting to note that, in the few days after the AFC Championship Game, the NFL referred to what they were doing as a “review.” The word “investigation” didn’t emerge until late in the week.
“I think Ted Wells did address (the league’s demeanor and actions) in his report,” Goodell told me when I asked why the report didn’t look inward. “I asked him specifically when I engaged him to evaluate the league’s conduct to determine what we could have done differently and I think he made his views very clear in the report, so I would disagree on that point. Whenever we have an incident, we look at it and say, ‘What could we have done differently, how can we improve?’ And we’ll continue to do that.”
Given the Patriots’ insistence that the league’s demeanor from the outset was accusatory and damning, it’s no wonder there was apprehension that the league was on a fishing expedition.
The best way to extinguish that would be for Goodell to share Wells’ responses to Goodell’s questions.
What could the league have done differently? How could they have improved? Who knows?
As it stands, it seems Wells just rubber-stamped all the work done by Goodell’s people throughout. And why wouldn’t he? You don’t pay a guy $5 million for a report that turns around and says you’re culpable for allowing the public to be misled into thinking a major violation had been perpetrated. You just try to establish that a major violation was perpetrated. And Wells couldn’t even do that.
When Goodell’s press conference ended, I spoke to league attorney Jeff Pash, who worked with Wells on the investigation.
After telling me he was amused that I described him as Goodell’s “lead nut-twister,” Pash agreed that Mortensen’s 11 of 12 report was “a flashpoint” but, Pash added, “All the information did get out, including the correct numbers.”
“Four months later,” I countered.
“There were a lot of things that were out there that weren’t accurate,” said Pash.
Here’s the interesting part, though. Goodell stood there Wednesday saying everything the league did checked out with Wells. Meanwhile, an e-mail from the Patriots attorney to Pash on February 7 complained Wells was told by the league to just investigate the Patriots and that the league would investigate itself.
In the e-mail from Daniel Goldberg under the subject “Scope of Investigation,” Goldberg wrote: “We learned last night from Ted that the issue of how League personnel handled the pursuit of the low psi issues, including whether there were inappropriate prejudgments and unfounded presumptions of wrongdoing, selective leaks of information and misinformation, failure to correct obviously misreported information, and the like, are not part of what the Paul Weiss firm has been asked to investigate. I understand that the League has opted to investigate those matters internally. Because of the significance of these issues, their obvious interrelationship to the matters being pursued by the Paul Weiss firm, and the benefits of having them investigated by individuals who are not employees of the League (particularly since they involve the conduct of high level League employees), the Patriots ask that the League add these issues to the matters that are being independently investigated. In our view, League personnel's serious mishandling of this psi issue during and after the AFC Championship Game has caused the Patriots grievous harm.”
Why is it so hard to find anything -- other than Wells's and Goodell’s claims -- to back up the notion Wells gave an unbiased look at the league? Perhaps because Wells’s first marching orders were to leave the league alone, that they’d take care of their own investigation.
The NFL can’t come out and cite the litany of ways they showed early bias and polluted their own investigation (like re-inflating the footballs in question at halftime, thereby losing the so-called evidence). It’s bad enough the public thinks the Patriots and Tom Brady compromised the integrity of the game, it can’t get out that the league itself may have.
So here we are, four months later, still waving away the stink of the now-smoldering investigation.
And we still aren’t sure who really dropped the cigarette in the first place.