If you take the NFL's word for it, Tom Brady’s getting sent to Elba for a quarter of the 2016 season not as a result of any conclusive, definitive proof of cheating that was unearthed in the mountainous pile of gossipy texts and scientific data that comprise the 243-page Ted Wells report on Deflategate. It’s because Brady sullied the so-called “integrity of the game.”
“Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football. The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent wrote in a letter to Brady. The Patriots are being docked two draft picks and $1 million, too. “Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question.”
The severe punishment being levied here isn’t about Brady’s belief that squishier, fluffier balls could conceivably aid him in firing the ol’ pigskin into Rob Gronkowski’s massive mitts, the NFL said. This is about Brady’s decision to tell the NFL’s massive security apparatus to go sit on a tack.
As Vincent wrote, it’s due to his “failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence.”
The rules are what lie at the top of this Goodell-ian Great Chain of Being. It doesn’t matter what rule was broken, or whether said rule-flouting changed the outcome of a single game, but that any single rule—in this case, something less than complete and total deference to the NFL’s authority—was broken at all.
The hypocrisy here is so galling that it’s nearly impossible to satirize. It’s almost impressive that the NFL could keep a straight face and prattle on about “integrity” while doing everything in its power to obfuscate any connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
They’ve unleashed millions of dollars worth of high-powered attorneys to keep players with brain trauma and/or addiction to painkillers from receiving anything close to an equitable compensation.
They’ve ignored the growing number of domestic violence cases until it became a public relations nightmare, and practically buried their heads deep into the AstroTurf to keep from seeing the video evidence of Ray Rice’s crime. Ignore the fact that the NFL’s domestic violence partner is useless. Pay no attention to the pink-hued uniforms that they trot out every October are a part of a grift-y sham that mostly, mathematically, exists to line league pockets.
“The stakes are entirely small potatoes, rendered laughable when compared to the countless acts of depravity and violence the NFL can barely bring itself to recognize, much less transparently investigate” Dan O’Sullivan wrote here when the report was made public on Friday. “It is a Potemkin narrative, an opportunity for the most powerful sporting league in human history to look reflective and accountable, even as they scramble to toss countless far more serious crimes down the memory hole.”
It’s important to remember, even if it sounds deranged, that for the people who do this for a living—all the talk about “integrity” isn’t just branded PR nonsense. It’s deeply true.
The NFL isn’t ever a brutal and retrograde (if deeply entertaining) brand of violence, even if the lingo that comes with it—the trenches on the o-line, the aerial assaults in the passing game—is meant to invoke just that. It is pure and good, and will always be—so as long as there’s total subservience to the forever tweaked, constantly shifting rules.
Tom Brady most likely dickied with the game ball? Send him off. For good.
The only way to fend off the growing awareness of the inherent dangers posed by football—and the creeping resentment of all the ways in which the NFL acts like, as David Roth wrote at VICE Sports, "a powerful nation-state run by a defective Epcot 'Hall of Presidents' droid that believes itself to be an actual head of state"—is to insist that the game itself is noble and true. The people, therefore, must be the bug in this otherwise perfect system.
As such, any challenge to that authority—whether it's a profound one like a bunch of moms not letting their kids play anymore because of the fear of concussions or a truly minor one like DeflateGate—can only be met with more stringent disciple, and the groaning insistence that this discipline, too, is an expression of virtue.
So Tom Brady will sit for a while, and Goodell will continue to consolidate his power and mete out his particular flavor of justice. The rules, after all, were broken.