The NFL's Tone-Deaf Response to Tom Brady and DeflateGate

Credit: Jim Rogash / Getty Images

The NFL never seems to get it right, so why should it start now?

Remember, this is a league that allows convicted felons to start on Sundays, but fines players tens of thousands of dollars for not tucking in their shirts properly.

Everybody who isn't a fan of the rival Jets, Bills, or Dolphins is outraged that New England Patriots QB Tom Brady was suspended four games for to his role in DeflateGate, and the NFL's investigation into whether or not the Patriots were cheating (again).


Brady was suspended a quarter of the upcoming season not because he likes his balls with less air pressure in them than the NFL allows, but because the league says he essentially obstructed justice. He didn’t fully cooperate with the NFL's probe. So despite his four Super Bowl victories, two MVPs, 10 Pro Bowls, a couple Sportsman of the Year trophies, and his standing as a league paragon by which all players are measured, Tom Brady failed the NFL.

Worse: He embarrassed The Shield.

In baseball, Alex Rodriguez tried to thwart investigators looking into his connection to an anti-aging clinic and he was suspended an entire season. While Brady's crime is far less serious-sounding than using steroids or trying to tamper with an official investigation, the league maintains that his role in New England equipment managers tampering with game balls equates to gaining an illegal competitive advantage, something the Patriots organization has tried to manipulate for years, from getting caught illegally filming opponents to coming up with odd-but-legal offensive formations.

It is very likely that New England's scientific deconstruction of the rules to find an added edge over opponents throughout the years played into the Brady suspension, too. The Patriots were fined $1 million and have to give up two draft picks (No. 1 in 2016, No. 4 in 2017) on top of losing their captain for the first four games of the coming season.


The NFL charged Brady with not fully cooperating in its DeflateGate investigation and for "conduct detrimental to the integrity" of the league. He got the same number of games first-time PED offenders get in the NFL, and two more games than Ray Rice initially got for punching his fiancé in an Atlantic City elevator. Brady can probably thank Rice for deputizing commissioner Roger Goodell with a new sense of discipline in the NFL's attempt to show how it's tougher against bad behavior this year than it was a year ago.

Socially, what Rice did is far worse than what the NFL says Brady did. But it wasn't until the public perception of the league's integrity was challenged that Rice got hit with a much harsher penalty that kept him off the field all of last season. As he learned, NFL punishments become much stiffer when the league's image is tarnished more broadly, which is what happened when a TMZ video of the Rice punch-out emerged and was running in a loop.

Instead of a video of Brady letting the air out of those balls himself, last week the damning Ted Wells report emerged, connecting the QB directly and intimately to the scandal. Like the Rice video, the story, which called into question the fair competition, effectively the lifeblood of every sport, was featured prominently in the weekend news cycle.


The link was a headline for five days before Goodell levied the suspension, which has been characterized as being too harsh and tone deaf to the real problems facing the league.

But in the end, Brady committed the ultimate sin in the NFL: he embarrassed the league. On TV, no less. And as Brady and Patriots fans have learned, that is the most serious of all crimes a football player can commit.