Last week, I relied on the word of Roger Goodell. I won’t make that mistake again.
When the NFL commissioner issued his 20-page decision to uphold Tom Brady’s suspension, I was asked to whip up some thoughts that might (and did) go on the front page of The Washington Post. To the extent I had a conclusion, it was that this ridiculous scandal was making everyone look bad, for no apparent reason.
When it actually came time to ding Brady for his misdeeds, though, I found them pretty slim. He seemed non-believable when he claimed he didn’t know a Patriots ballboy, for example, which is hardly a crime. And the destruction of his cell phone felt sort of odd — although so does eating morning-after Taco Bell.
But among the most powerful weapons Goodell deployed was this: that Brady had suggested his frequent communications with the key Patriots equipment assistant in the days after the scandal broke concerned the preparation of Super Bowl balls and not DeflateGate, a hard-to-believe claim.
“Mr. Brady testified that he was unable to recall any specifics of those discussions and he suggested that their principal subject was preparation of game balls for the Super Bowl,” Goodell wrote.
Goodell further argued that the huge uptick in communication between Brady and the assistant “undermines any suggestion that the communications addressed only preparation of footballs for the Super Bowl rather than the tampering allegations and their anticipated responses to inquiries about the tampering.”
Those words swayed my original piece, which was based on Goodell’s report. And those words were, to be frank, hogwash.
We now have the transcripts of Brady’s testimony. Brady admitted that he didn’t “remember exactly what we discussed,” but suggested there were two topics: “one was the allegations which we were facing and the second was getting ready for the Super Bowl,” and that he was talking to the assistant “about those things.”
Later, Brady — trying to reconstruct months-old conversations — said “I think I was trying to figure out what happened [with the footballs], you know what could be — possibly could have happened to those balls.”
Yes, Brady also said that “most of the conversations centered around” breaking in footballs for the Super Bowl. But he made it clear that they indeed discussed the allegations and the supposedly deflated footballs. So why on earth was the commissioner pounding his fist over “any suggestion that the communications addressed only preparation of footballs for the Super Bowl rather than the tampering allegations?” Brady said, in plain English, that the allegations had been discussed.
Look, there is so much gobbledygook in all of these very-official-sounding reports that inconsistencies will occur. Such as, how many times did Brady and the assistant talk on the day after the AFC title game?
“Brady and Jastremski spoke twice by telephone on January 19 (calls lasting a total of 25 minutes and 2 seconds),” the Wells Report claims on page 127.
“Brady and Jastremski spoke by telephone at least twice on January 19 (calls lasting a total of 25 minutes and 2 seconds),” the Wells Report claims on page 18.
“Jastremski and Brady spoke to each other on the telephone four times on January 19, for a total of 25 minutes and 2 seconds,” the Wells Report claims on page 101.
“On January 19, the day following the AFC Championship Game, Mr. Brady and Mr. Jastremski had four cellphone conversations, totaling more than 25 minutes,” Goodell wrote.
And how long did the assistant talk to the ballboy on that day?
“This [first] call between McNally and Jastremski lasted 9 minutes and 12 seconds. … [Later] they spoke for 7 minutes and 55 seconds. … Approximately one hour later, Jastremski called McNally again, and they spoke for 27 minutes and 18 seconds….Later that evening, McNally called Jastremski twice and they spoke for 13 minutes and 34 seconds,” the Wells Report claims.
Goodell, on the other hand, cites a conversation of “nearly ten minutes” between Jastremski and McNally, and then says “they spoke multiple additional times throughout the remainder of the day for a total of 22 minutes.”
So was it 22 minutes, after “nearly ten” minutes? Or was it about 49 minutes, after about nine minutes? Does this matter, all these facts and figures? Only insofar as the Wells Report (and Goodell) have tried to transform an avalanche of statistics about cellphone conversations into evidence of wrongdoing. If that’s your strategy, at least stay consistent.
Still, that’s mostly trivia and fact-checking. Being deliberately misleading about whether or not Brady admitted to discussing the allegations with the assistant during those conversations is not.
This isn’t about whether or not anyone took air out of footballs, or whether or not a quarterback knew anything untoward was happening. This is about whether the commissioner of the NFL cares at all about accuracy, and whether he can be believed when he belches out his 20-page decisions. Last week, I made the mistake of assuming he could. I’ll try not to do that again.
(Thanks to NESN)