Deflategate and the Absence of Malice Dilemma for the NFL
There is an enjoyable Sidnay Pollack movie called Absence of Malice. The plot of the movie is about an investigation of a murder and how press leaks are used to manipulate people via public opinion. As I watched the Deflategate drama unfold over the past few weeks, the whole affair reminded me of this movie. No one has died and we are not talking about Federal crimes, but from the coverage of the affair a person in another country not immersed in our football culture, would think we were discussing high crimes against the state.
Facts As I Heard Them
There has been an enormous amount of reporting on this investigation, but very few facts are known. What we do know is really contained to first few days after the AFC Championship game and beyond that time period, there are no facts, just confusing sound bites, theories, leaks and opinions.
- January 18: Bob Kravitz said that he was in the locker room after the AFCC getting quotes from the players when he got a text from a long time, trusted source that an investigation was underway. He did not return the call/text till he was done in the locker room. He said this during an interview with a Boston sports radio station and it must mean that the source’s mobile number on Bob’s phone.
- January 18: 11:55pm Bob Kravitz tweeted “Breaking: A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night. More to come.”
- January 19: 7am NFL Spokesman Michael Signora confirmed the investigation
- January 19: Patriots President Jonathan Kraft said the NFL did not officially notify the team of the investigation till ~11am on Monday via email
- January 20: Bob Kravitz said he would not reveal his source.
- January 22: D’Qwell Jackson said: “I wanted that ball as a souvenir! I wouldn’t know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage, I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another.”
Beyond these facts, it becomes a very murky world of leaks and agendas. What we do know is that a NFL Source leaked information to local team reporter. It was not leaked to a national reporter, it was leaked to a team reporter. I am sure Bob Kravitz is nice guy, but why was he chosen as the Woodward and Bernstein by an NFL source? Who is the source of the leak?
It has been speculated that the source is Mike Kensil. He is one of those guys who forgot his Linkedin password over the years, so he has two profiles: Current and Old. Mike was on the sidelines during the AFCC. He has been reported to have the started the ball investigation during the game and certainly had early knowledge of the investigation. Does that matter? Well, Bob Kravitz was told of the investigation while he was in the locker room after the game. The game ended around 10pm. Within two hours (10-11:50pm) Kravitz had spoken to a person with knowledge of the investigation and crafted his tweet. Who could that be and what was the objective of the source of the leak? We know that Mike Kensil knew of the investigation as well as the Colt’s general manager. Was it Kensil or someone on his game day operations team? Was it the Colts GM? I doubt it was a member of the Colts as Kravitz is specific in his words by stating it was a league source.
Suppositions as to How We Got Here
There are really two, maybe three plausible scenarios as to how we got to this point in the story.
- Patriots are Purposely Deflating Footballs: They are sending balls to the referee under-inflated and hoping they pass inspection or they are deflating them afterwards by an employee who takes the balls into the men’s room before going to the field.
- Elaborate Plan to Discredit the Patriots: Someone wanted to discredit the Patriots and knew the Patriots liked their balls at the PSI margin. All they had to do was get control of a game ball, maybe take a small amount of air out of it and cry foul by leaking the report of an investigation to a local reporter of the most recent team beaten by the Patriots.
- Wag the Dog Marketing Plan: The two weeks between Championship weekend and the SuperBowl are the most boring in the NFL season. Perhaps the Deflategate investigation was an elaborate marketing plan to keep everyone focused on the NFL. The story was the lead on all three national news shows on one night. New York newspaper reporters are fascinated with the story to the point that they are testing how fast they can deflate balls and it produced endless spoofs on social media and several impromptu press conferences. If this was indeed the plan, then the marketing team at the NFL should get a hefty bonus.
Roger Goodell Needs to Channel Wilford Brimley
The NFL has a number of problems regarding this matter. If the inflation of balls is really that important then why does the NFL let teams submit the balls to be used in the game? The NFL was founded in 1920 and for 94 years this was not important enough to be the lead article on the national news till January 2015?
I think that Roger Goodell needs to act like the Commissioner and channel Wilford Brimley from Absence of Malice. Here is the scene, albeit the quality is quite poor. My view on this whole saga has very little to do with the integrity of the game. It was to do with the integrity of NFL and the conduct of professionals. All the leaks indicate that people are pushing agendas and it is very plausible for the purpose of malice – rather than an absence of malice. The leaks are usually incremental in nature and this is being done to manipulate perception. For example, we get a leak of a video, but not the details. Later the details of the video leak out. All of this is incremental in nature on purpose.
If I were the Commissioner of the NFL I would gather everyone in the room. If you are the source of a leak or leaks, you are fired. If you were actively trying to manipulate the outcome of the game you are fined, banned, whatever the appropriate punishment. Going forward the NFL will control game balls at all times. At some point, Roger Goodell needs to be the person in charge. If he cannot be the person in charge, then the NFL owners should find a Commissioner who can be the person in charge.