Deflated Footballs vs. Drugs vs. Domestic Violence vs. Damaged Brains: The NFL’s PR Nightmare

Tom Brady will be -and should be- suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

There’s no telling as of yet how long that suspension will be. The 10+ games some major media pundits are suggesting seems a bit extreme. But the reality is, if you take the Wells Report seriously, the entire “DeflateGate” scandal comes back to Brady. And, with all due respect to Brady’s agent and to his daddy, you have to take the Wells Report at least somewhat seriously, because it’s a comprehensive 247-page document that includes some damning text messages between two Patriots employees that specifically mention the preferences/requests of Brady when discussing deflating the footballs.

This isn’t like an employee pumping artificial crowd noise into the stadium. This isn’t like a coach misunderstanding the rules in regards to videotaping opponents signs and audibles. This is an NFL player, a marquee one at that, either directly requesting that someone alter game equipment illegally or having knowledge of said alterations and, most importantly, blatantly lying about it when initially questioned.

That’s the killer for me. I don’t think the actual footballs really impacted the pounding the Patriots gave to the Colts. I do think DeflateGate, as an actual competitive advantage, has been blown way out of proportion. But as a scandal? I’d actually argue it’s being overlooked.

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During that initial press conference before the Super Bowl, Tom Brady lied his ass off. It’s hard for me to type this because I’ve always had the utmost respect for him as a player both on and off the field, if you catch my drift. But he lied. He didn’t say “I didn’t know I was breaking the rules”. He didn’t say “I think it’s something everybody does”. He didn’t say “We’ll see what comes of the investigation”. Tom Brady, instead, claimed to be completely dumbfounded. Not only did he deny anything happen, but he said, that if it did in fact happen, he had ABSOLUTELY NO KNOWLEDGE of it. Brady flashed that million dollar Ugg smile and lied to the world. A lot of us bought it at the time. I certainly did.

As for the “everyone does it” defense I’ve heard a lot of Pats fans using (I live in New England)…that’s pure bullshit. First off, there is absolutely no proof saying that’s the case, and while it very well may be, you can’t handle potential disciplinary action based on that. Also, a lot of QB’s from previous eras are coming out and saying manipulating footballs was a common tactic…so what? Why does it matter what happened in the early-90’s, when there was less attention on the league?

“It’s the way things have always been” and “Everyone else does it” are the two worst excuses of all-time. I think we’re all smart enough to think of our own examples here. And for the people saying this is only a big deal because it’s the Patriots and everybody hates them; fuck off, honestly, you’re not that important.

Sure, the Patriots have a lot of haters because of their success. But they also have a lot of haters because of the smug way their coach carries himself and the now repeated serious accusations of cheating. Pats fans, if the script was flipped and Andrew Luck had been in Brady’s place, you don’t think it would be a story? Really? The “Us against the world” attitude that Pats fans often take is fun on Twitter and talk radio, but leads to some moronic opinions on serious issues.

dWw3wvLAs a football player, I actually don’t think this impacts Brady’s legacy much. I’m not some crazy conspiracy theorist who thinks every win the Patriots have ever had comes from cheating. If you thought Brady was the greatest QB of all-time three months ago, you should still hold that opinion (at least until Aaron Rodgers and/or Andrew Luck surpass him). I don’t think Tom Brady is a bad person or a scumbag or whatever, but I’m certainly disappointed that he chose to handle this the way he did.

Numerous media outlets are reporting that Brady is likely to be suspended next week. It’s going to happen. This will be the highest-profile suspension in NFL history. This isn’t some special-teams gunner getting busted for PED’s.

This is Tom Brady -the golden boy, the greatest ever- being directly connected to a scandal involving cheating. It’s a big deal, no matter what any Belichick groupie tells you.

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So I’ve covered why I think the league should suspend Tom Brady, but that probable outcome also brings up another issue; the sure-to-happen comparisons to the initial two-game suspension Ray Rice received for knocking his fiance unconscious.

Let’s say the NFL gives Brady somewhere between 4-8 games, like many are predicting (in my opinion, he should get 2). I can hear it now, “A guy gets 8 games for deflating some balls while Ray Rice knocks his wife out cold and only gets 2! So much for the NFL caring about domestic violence!”. It’s a very legitimate gripe, and one that’s already reared its head in popular discussions with Josh Gordon being suspended for another season due to non-PED substance use (not going to get into the whole “weed thing”, beyond saying that, hey NFL, it’s 2015).

Let’s get one thing straight, the NFL does not give two shits about domestic violence. The commercials we saw during broadcasts this season and the harsh suspension for Cowboys DE Greg Hardy were moves made in retaliation, as damage control. If the video of Rice knocking out his fiance had never surfaced, we’re likely looking at Rice missing only two games and nobody, in the media or public, batting an eye. It doesn’t take much analysis to tell that the league has turned the other cheek on domestic violence for decades.

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Is it stupid to compare a possible Brady suspension for DeflateGate to one somebody receives for domestic violence? Yes, yes it is. They’re two completely different actions with completely different legal ramifications in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. There’s no point in arguing which is worse or which deserves a more serious suspension. But we will. It makes for a good segment on ESPN. It makes for a hot Twitter debate. It’s an interesting conversation to have at the bar.

Now, I’ve been a firm believer in and stated repeatedly that I don’t think the NFL will exist 15 years from now (because of, you know, the scientifically proven serious head trauma football can cause). It’s a fucked up thing to say, but maybe people talking about Ray Rice or Tom Brady is a blessing in disguise for the NFL. It does, at least temporarily, take the focus away from concussions. Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the best players in the NFL who made just north of $500,000 as a rookie, retired at the age of 24 this offseason because he’s horrified and aware of the potential medical issues an NFL career can cause. This was a national talking point…for about a week. Because then the Cowboys signed Greg Hardy and Draft season hit.

Right now, more so than anytime I can remember as a fan, the NFL desperately needs the season to start. They need the incredible on-field product there to distract from the off-field controversies. Once September rolls around and the games start, I’m sure that will be the case. I’ll be on my couch every Sunday with a beer cracked and football on. I won’t feel bad about it. But I probably should.

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“Have I had Toradol shots? Yes. Have I abused anti-inflammatories? Yes. Have I used painkillers? Yes. Have I got shot up with painkillers and Xylocaine and different things to numb areas so I can play? Yes. I’ve done it all.” – Mark Schlereth, former NFL player and ESPN Analyst

I’d like to take these last few paragraphs to address what I believe will be the next major scandal in the NFL; painkiller addiction.

note: you can read great investigative pieces from people much smarter than me on sites like Deadspin and Vice, places that DON’T rely on a partnership with the NFL for revenue)

Here’s something you may or may not know; doctors with real medical licenses employed by NFL teams are irresponsibly doling out dangerous painkillers to the players. This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s happening. A coalition of retired players has sued the NFL in response to health effects, including addiction, stemming from drugs they feel were unwisely given to them by team doctors, coaches, and trainers. The DEA is investigating the NFL. During November of last season, the DEA sent agents to check up on medical staffs after games.

From 2009-2010, the company SportPharm was busted for illegally distributing prescription drugs such as Vicodin, which is supposed to be tracked at all times according to the Federal government, to 81 team doctors. When the DEA raided SportPharm’s headquarters, they got ahold of a file labeled “NFL Football”.

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How is this happening? I don’t know. I don’t really understand the inner-workings of prescription drug trafficking, especially on such a large scale. I figure it will take another major arrest, of somebody in the league, for us to get the whole story. The DEA indicates that often the doctors will actually write the prescription for themselves using an expired number and then keep the drugs in their office, handing them out like candy when the players ask for them.

 Note: The NFL refused to comment on both the Vice and Deadspin stories.

The lawsuit against the NFL is actually headed by former members of the ’85 Bears, Jim McMahon and Richard Dent, and includes about 1,300 other former players as plaintiffs. Their lawsuit suggest that the NFL, “intentionally, recklessly and negligently created and maintained a culture of drug misuse, substituting players’ health for profit”. It’s not hard to see why such a brutal but commercially viable sport would lead to teams suggesting that players take certain substances to help the pain and get back on the field.

Former player and ESPN talking head Mark Schlereth, in a very non-ESPN move, addressed the issue openly, “Have I had Toradol shots? Yes. Have I abused anti-inflammatories? Yes. Have I used painkillers? Yes. Have I got shot up with painkillers and Xylocaine and different things to numb areas so I can play? Yes. I’ve done it all.” (as told to The Washington Post).

Hmmmmm….

The University of Washington did a study on this and found some things out:

  • 51% of retired players surveyed admitted to misusing painkillers during their playing days.
  • 15% of retired players surveyed admitted to misusing them within the last 30 days.

I wouldn’t expect the mainstream media to discuss the painkiller issue until they no longer have a choice, just like with domestic violence, where it wasn’t really discussed until TMZ released a video. Sadly, it will likely take something like an overdose to bring this issue into the national spotlight. Just know, it’s a thing that exists.

So yeah, I have nothing more to say. The NFL is in a weird place. It’s still a wildly popular league that generates billions in revenue (and after not re-filing for tax-exempt status, they no longer have to disclose that revenue or salaries!!).

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?

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