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Criticism of NFL’s handling of #DeflateGate becomes mainstream


On Sunday, the NFL will stage the first AFC championship game since the one that gave us #DeflateGate. Starting as a curiosity in the aftermath of the 45-7 blowout of the Colts by the Patriots when Bob Kravitz of WTHR in Indianapolis reported that the league was investigating whether New England used footballs that had less air in them than permitted, the oddity quickly became a hashtag when the league leaked to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (and later to Peter King of and NBC) blatantly false information regarding the PSI measurements of the footballs used by the Patriots.

The reported numbers triggered a presumption that someone had released air from the footballs, putting the Patriots on their heels and justifying the league’s decision to conduct an independent investigation that wasn’t really independent. If the truth had come out as quickly as the falsehood did, the Patriots may have been able to quickly shout down the league and block a full-blown investigation.

The release in May of the Wells report, which included a finding that Patriots employees violated the rules via a scheme to deflate footballs and that quarterback Tom Brady was at least “generally aware” of the situation (Commissioner Roger Goodell found an even greater degree of culpability for Brady through the internal appeal process), caused many to assume that the Patriots were guilty as charged. Some, however, took a more skeptical look at the lengthy report and began to ask questions and otherwise to push back.

The biggest flaw came from the actual PSI numbers and the dramatically conflicting gauges used by the league to measure air pressure. Given the Ideal Gas Law (which emerged in some of the earliest media assessments of the situation but which the NFL admittedly had no knowledge of at the time), the real numbers -- not the phony ones leaked to the media -- suggested that the loss of pressure can be explained by science, not skullduggery.

Over time, the criticism has become mainstream, culminating in an article from Joe Nocera of the New York Times placing the blame for the situation on the NFL’s failure at first (and refusal thereafter) to realize that the answer to the deflation phenomenon lies in the formula known as PV = nRT. Nocera’s article contains no new information; indeed, he simply summarizes details about which anyone who has followed the case closely has been aware for months. But Nocera’s article will ensure that a broader audience understands precisely what the NFL did to the Patriots.

Many fans of the other 31 teams will continue not to care about what happened to the Patriots, but for the schadenfreude of those fans rooting for teams that regard the Patriots as rivals. But every fan of every NFL team should continue to worry about the type of arbitrary and results-oriented decision-making reflected by #DeflateGate, because their favorite NFL team could be the next to find itself on the wrong end of arbitrary and results-oriented decision-making.