The Diary of an Illinois Boston Fan

My Final Thoughts on the New England Patriots Ball Deflation Controversy

As my small but steady traffic grows, I’ve had a couple people ask me if I’m going to talk about “Deflategate” at all.

I really wanted to say no. For these past 85 years, (What? It’s only been 19 months? You sure about that? Feels longer), I’ve gone through as many ups and downs as you can when it comes to Fandom involving this situation. It has consumed the sports media in a way that’s rather disgusting when you think about the whole situation, but alas…here I am ready to finally give my parting words to this situation.

I for one really disdain the Deflategate term. Right off the cuff, it just doesn’t make sense. The same with SpyGate, BountyGate, any gate…they’re derivitives off the name Watergate, which was just the name of a hotel. So I would like to personally kill that name for the rest of my piece and my peace.

Instead of bashing the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, for his part in this debacle. Instead of defending Brady like a southie wannabe ball boy. Instead of crying witch hunt and fraudulent and whatever else…I want to talk about the real perpetrators of this incident.

The Entertainment Sports Programming Network has been around since the early ’80s. They’ve been the giant and overbearing powerhouse when it comes to sports reporting since about the ’90s when they really took off and understood the kind of gravitas they had when it came to social conscience. Even in a day where social media is prevalent, in a day where almost every medium of media has a sports department — ESPN still looms overall.

Take a quick look at any comments section on literally any ESPN article and you’ll see every Facebook warrior claiming how ESPN is finished and their articles suck. The irony that hasn’t set in on these men and women is rather hilarious. ESPN may suck sometimes, but they’re not and most likely never will be finished. They’re powerful in ways that nobody has really seen from any other network. They don’t have any real competitors like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC all have with each other. Every wannabe station is thrown in the bottom rung channel listing while ESPN commands an entire 5 station block all to themselves. In the 24-hour news cycle, that’s power you can’t get anymore.

That’s why it was extremely disheartening for me, an avid ESPN fan, to see my team tarnished by this network for the 3rd time in 8 years for a much ballyhooed and overblown controversy. For the longest time, I couldn’t wrap my head around why a, supposed to be, unbiased sports media was dragging the entire Patriots organization and Tom Brady through the mud based on the inflation levels in footballs.

This controversy turned sports fans on their heads. The Patriots have been a much hated franchise for a good portion of 9 years now ever since the infamous video taping scandal in 2007. Without getting into nauseating detail about it, a camera man was videotaping too close to an opponent’s sideline a year after that became against the rules, Bill Belichick admitted to it, Patriots and Belichick were fined and docked a first round draft pick. Ever since, opposing fans that hated the Patriots used any infraction — no matter the size — to claim cheaters and ask for their accomplishments to come with the sports asterisk (a way of saying that the trophies and accolades are tarnished in some capacity).

This football deflation story only made the jeers grow louder as out cries of banning the Patriots from Super Bowl 49 rung loudly all over the Internet. People were fed up with this perceived notion of cheating and circumventing the rules. When ESPN had reported that 11 (ELEVEN!) of the 12 Patriots game balls were 2 lbs of pressure under the legal limit…there was a firestorm that couldn’t be contained any longer.

Except, that information reported wasn’t even close to the truth. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (get better Mort) reported that incorrect information thanks to a source of his in the NFL front office. After that the media bashing of the Patriots unleashed on the unsuspecting public. ESPN seemingly the worst offender. Analyst after analyst came on and admonished New England for this, in their minds, blatant disregard for the rules. One analyst famously cried on air when Tom Brady vehemently denied any involvement in this situation.

Why did ESPN care so much more than virtually anyone else? Even after facts of the case (due to the Ted Wells report) came out to show that the erroneous 11 of 12 football deflation numbers were grossly overstated, neither Chris Mortensen nor ESPN issued an apology for the gross misreporting and conduct from their figureheads on the network. To this day there hasn’t been an official apology, even long after the fight stopped being about football PSI levels.

As a Patriots fan I became “attacked” on the Internet from people I did and didn’t know. You could brush off the random people that messaged or tweeted at you, but it was the people you thought were your friends that really stung the most. Literal friendships were destroyed between people I knew because for some reason, people took serious offense on both sides of this matter. The most notable rhetoric thrown out as an assault was the 11 of 12 football inflation levels. To this day there are still people that believe that is still a fact.

So why hasn’t ESPN tried to correct this wrong they caused? I became more and more interested into their inner workings about it, because it quite frankly made little sense to me.

Coincidentally I was reading the terrific tell-all ESPN book “Those Guys Have All the Fun” at the same time as the controversy. Now, if you haven’t gotten a chance to read this then I highly recommend you do. It has a great insight on the entire history of ESPN. It’s not just fluffing up for good PR, they really get down and dirty about the awful issues that notoriously plagued the company since inception.

One particular chapter really stuck out to me, especially amidst the football scandal. It takes the reader back to the early 2000s, when ESPN was ready to broker a new deal with the NFL on their Monday Night Football product. For months, tensions had become rather high amongst NFL and ESPN television elite regarding the changing of producers, directors, and general staffing occurring behind the scenes at ESPN. The NFL’s Television and Media Committee didn’t take kindly to ESPN making vast overhauls on a product that was considered the top tier regular season event. Al Michaels and John Madden were the voices of MNF just like they became the voices of NBC’s Sunday Night Football. This was the big time, but ESPN wanted it cheaper.

For a significant time frame, ESPN thought they had cornered the market on the NFL’s signature weekly event and they would re-up for roughly 80 cents on the dollar. This didn’t sit too well with the head of television involvement on the NFL’s side.

After ESPN thought they had all but locked up the next decade to be the NFL’s premier broadcasting partner, one Mr. Robert Kraft decided to pull the rug out from under ESPN’s feet and move every significant feature over to NBC. For those that don’t know, Robert Kraft owns the New England Patriots. He and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen (who was more in favor of staying with ESPN but still very unhappy with the ESPN offer) had taken away ESPN’s playoff rights, informed them that the games normally given to Monday Night (the super bowl champions would play 2 times a season against top opponents) would move to Sunday night, and they might even cut Monday Night Football off from ESPN and ABC for a whole season (that didn’t come to fruition). The rumblings of this happening within ESPN caused Al Michaels and John Madden to jump ship to NBC and the rest is now history.

ESPN never fully recovered from that damaging blow that Robert Kraft inflicted upon them. Ratings significantly dropped, the schedule market was weak, and millions in revenue were lost starting 3 years after the deal.

I don’t like to play into conspiracies, but it is more than a little suspicious that ESPN was the one network that truly drove deep into the heart of the deflated football controversy. ESPN’s own Jackie McMullen and Mike Reiss (two noted Boston specific writers) even shied away from defense of the Patriots, with McMullen writing a damning piece about how Brady should have taken the suspension and never fought it (she has since issued an apology for writing that piece). Anyone that spoke out strongly against the NFL and/or Roger Goodell were either put on suspension or quickly fired from the ESPN family. The idea that money talks isn’t a novel concept and ESPN is currently still working to get back into good graces with the NFL when it comes to scheduling.

In the end of everything that’s occured with this saga, it’s ESPN’s refusal to admit to any misreporting or outlandish analytical representation that seems most curious about their handling and personal feelings towards it all.

With every new installation, ESPN was seemingly ready to pounce on Brady and the Patriots and use their sources to spin any information given. When the Brady appeal hearing occured, ESPN’s popular and outspoken personality Stephen A. Smith reported that Brady smashed his cell phone as a way to hide it from the investigators in the Ted Wells legal group. When it was revealed that Brady had only disposed of his phone after being informed that his physical phone wouldn’t be necessary to the investigation, ESPN and Smith still pushed hard about it every chance they got to speak or write on the matter.

To this day there are mere weeks old articles that reference both the 11 of 12 PSI levels and the destroyed cell phone as if they were reported as complete fact instead of the embellished leaked information that they were factually proven to be.

While it’s understandable what the NFL has to gain by suspending Brady (more league parity, a showing of hard stance on the commissioner’s ability to administer justice, throwing scent off of other recent NFL scandals)…it just doesn’t make any sense for ESPN to continue down the path they have other than a show of petty bitterness stemming from Robert Kraft’s upheaval of the NFL on the ESPN networks. Perhaps that would be why ESPN still has a very accessible article to read about the accusation that the Patriots filmed the Rams practices before the super bowl in 2002, despite their “source” saying he never once gave any kind of information to ESPN about any such event occurring.

I don’t blame Roger Goodell anymore. I don’t blame Ted Wells anymore. I blame ESPN. I blame their entire NFL specific organization, yes even Mike Reiss and Jackie McMullen, for this entire situation getting vastly out of hand. It turned from a simple equipment violation to a full on deep-seeded conspiracy because of the gross negligence and journalistic integrity thrown out of the window by this network. For whatever reasons, they decide to keep this overblown hullabaloo going and I as a fan (understanding that my minor opinion stake means nothing) will never forgive them for the damages they caused…all over a game that doesn’t matter to most of our lives.