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Exploring NFL’s inconsistent reactions to erroneous ESPN reports

I was occupied with other matters when the minor skirmish emerged regarding whether Tom Brady was limited to four hours in presenting his case during Tuesday’s appeal hearing. To summarize, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the four-hour limitation applied, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello promptly tweeted a contradiction, Schefter released the memo suggesting the four-hour limit, and then the case entailed 10 hours of testimony.

Despite the contents of the memo, the league’s version ended up being accurate. But that’s not the point of this blurb. The point is that: (1) ESPN reported something the NFL believed to be inaccurate; and (2) the NFL immediately responded.

So let’s go back to January 20. On that day, Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs used in the AFC title game were measured at a full two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. It was a blatantly false report, but to this day many still believe it to be true.

In response, the NFL uttered not a peep, anywhere. No press release. No tweet from one of the many P.R. employees who work for the NFL. No leak to one of the many journalists who work for the NFL.

The disparity between today’s rapid-fire disagreement with Schefter’s procedural nuance and January’s silence in response to Mortensen’s critical factual assertion is stunning. And it lends credence to the belief that the NFL deliberately leaked false information in order to pin the Patriots against ropes that simply weren’t there.

If Aiello or anyone else from the NFL had responded swiftly to Mortensen’s erroneous report with the true numbers, which were measured by two significantly conflicting pressure gauges, the Patriots would have been able to shout down the readings by explaining the application of the Ideal Gas Law, the mainstream news media never would have paid serious attention to the situation, and Ted Wells never would have been called in to conduct an investigation that by all appearances was aimed at reaching a predetermined result.

The failure to rebut Mortensen’s report therefore bolsters the idea the entire episode was indeed orchestrated to catch the Patriots doing something, even if it’s still not clear what they did.

And Ted Wells investigated none of that. Even though Commissioner Roger Goodell has publicly claimed that Wells did.

Let’s be clear on this: Wells definitely didn’t investigate the leak to Mortensen. Let’s be even more clear: Someone definitely should.