The media love Deflategate, the fascinating story about how footballs used by the New England Patriots in their Sunday AFC Championship contest against the Indianapolis Colts ended up underinflated by league rules. A visit to Nexis confirms the splurge, as 1,215 results pop up in a search of “New England Patriots” and “deflated” since Monday. Cable news has attacked the story with cable-news vigor, allowing an entire squad of retired NFL players to reminisce about their glory days with references to the (un)importance of ball-inflation levels in the heat of battle.
Keep it coming, all of it.
Not everyone feels that way, including Boston.com columnist Eric Wilbur. “The wall-to-wall media coverage that infiltrated Foxborough yesterday, when adults dug deep for the pivotal answers as to why an athlete would decrease air pressure in a football, was embarrassing, both for journalism and our attention span as a nation.”
Oh, don’t be so earnest. Here are some of the many reasons to pump up the coverage:
*Whodunnit? Yesterday brought us two press conferences in which Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady both claimed no involvement in the deflationary policies. Okay, then who did it? The equipment goons? Troy Aikman, who is Troy Aikman, summed up the situation: “So for the balls to be deflated, that doesn’t happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that. Now the question becomes did Bill Belichick know about it.” That’s Troy Aikman saying that.
*NFL. It’s a nearly $10 billion enterprise, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has grand plans to more than double that figure; he makes north of $40 million annually. It dominates television and, with it, popular culture. Given such influence, who can argue with nonstop coverage?
*Ethics. As many have suggested, the bad-boy image of Belichick — and the team’s history with league rules — has driven media-feasting on this latest, pretty inconsequential alleged violation. The inconsequential part of it, however, adds dynamism to the media focus on it. What we have here, as most former players have claimed, is a rule violation that confers no great on-field advantage. The Patriots destroyed the Colts by a score of 45-7 and apparently used the deflated balls only in the first half.
So how bad is cheating when it has a negligible impact on the outcome? Excellent CNN sports correspondent Rachel Nichols attacked this question yesterday on the network: “There’s a lot of people who come and say, you know what, they would have beaten the Colts anyway. He could have been carrying a beach ball across the line. That is likely true,” said Nichols. “But then it does beg the question, have they done this in other game[s] where it’s been closer. . . . And in the end, does it really matter? What matters is, you should play by the rules, right?”
*Super Bowl coverage. The two weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl mark the greatest squandering of journalistic resources since Y2K. If Deflategate coverage manages to elbow out the player profiles and other pregame puffery, the controversy will have earned all its air time.