For those of you who stuck around, it’s now time to face the facts. The Patriots have built a cross-decade dynasty that was previously unprecedented in any incarnation of the NFL, which is enough to invite criticism and doubt upon any organization. Additionally, they have spent most of that time indulging in their own intrigue through the Bill Belichick-lead “Patriot Way” that has been viewed as nothing if not elitist and arrogant; albeit effective.
They have not tried to bend to the status quo of the NFL by being transparent and cooperative. They have purposely done things differently. That is the reason for their greatness on the field and it is the reason for the extreme level of scrutiny they are undergoing right now. There is a basis for why everyone hates perennial winners and it’s not just because of the championship rings.
In order to achieve inordinate success there are always at least a few people who are willing to do whatever it takes. And doing whatever it takes rarely includes exhibiting the qualities of likeable people. This effect is on display in every facet of American success across all industries.
People don’t hate the Patriots because they think air pressure in their footballs helped them win Super Bowls. That is an absurd notion. The Patriots do what most teams in all leagues do; they bend the rules when they think they can. It’s a human instinct to push the envelope. The saying “rules were meant to be broken” was not invented by Belichick. We can’t help ourselves.
Every time you go on Facebook at work, take fifteen extra minutes on your break, lie about your inter-office relationship or call in sick so that you can go on a three-day weekend, you are breaking the rules of your institution for no other reason than because you can and because everyone does it. When you get caught, everyone puts their head down and shuts up because they don’t want to be next. You accept the write-up that goes in your file and you move along with your day. It’s that sentiment that should be able to gather people who both love and loathe the Patriots to meet in the middle.
The Patriots know people don’t like them. They have become our generation’s Yankees and Patriots fans need to accept that, especially because the Patriots don’t have the over-the-top rule-breaking George Steinbrenner. They have the nearly opposite. Robert Kraft is largely responsible for putting Roger Goodell in his position as commissioner and keeping him there. That is where the Patriots made their biggest mistake, and if you want a very good reason to hate them then that one is it.
You should absolutely be angry at the Patriots organization for any role they played in keeping Goodell in power, because he is a far greater danger to this precious pastime than Tom Brady or Belichick or Kraft. You can want the Patriots to be fined. You can even want to see Brady knocked down a couple pegs if that will make you feel better, but you should definitely not accept this circus act that has been put on by the NFL.
The penalties against the Patriots are in many ways contradictory to the Wells report’s assertion that Belichick and Kraft had no knowledge of the probable transgressions of Brady, Jim McNally and John Jastremski. Yet they have been handed a $1 million dollar fine and docked a first-round and fourth-round draft pick.
If the Wells report is to be believed, then Brady had enough knowledge about the deflating of game balls that he can be punished by the league according to the NFL handbook. Hard to argue with that, as the report certainly offers enough evidence to garner him a two-game suspension on those grounds. Yet the NFL has admitted that Brady’s unwillingness to cooperate with their investigation by handing over his cell phone was a mitigating factor in the severity of his punishment. According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network (among others), the extra two games added onto his suspension were due to that lack of cooperation. That’s essentially admitting that without violating his constitutional rights, you could not come to a definitive conclusion.
What is there to miss here? Give him a two-game suspension, fine the Patriots a nice hefty, precedent-setting 250 thousand dollars for not maintaining institutional control within their organization and call it a day.
But that’s not what it’s about for the NFL and Roger Goodell, and that is a terrifying proposition. This is not about protecting the integrity of the league. This is not about fairness. It is about proving who is boss by attempting to strong-arm one of your biggest allies and his future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback into blindly handing over everything you ask for in an investigation that is clearly looking to find you guilty.
Meanwhile, this is not an investigation about criminal behavior or institutional steroid use or gambling or any other multitude of issues that have plagued American sports for decades. No, it’s an investigation into the manipulation of PSI in footballs; a topic that was such a non-issue prior to the AFC Championship game that almost every sports fan and member of the media in the United States had to look up what PSI was, or at the very least what it had to do with football.
If Brady broke the rules then some type of sanction is appropriate. It didn’t help him win Super Bowls or any other games for that matter, but that’s not the point. The point is that when you break the rules and get caught then a punishment generally follows. He is the dude who got caught on Facebook while everybody else put their head down and erased their browser history. Fine.
By all means hate the Patriots and Brady and Belichick and pray that you get to watch them crumble. That’s how sports works and if watching the Patriots squirm is giving you butterflies in your stomach then you can hardly be blamed for that.
Just don’t condone this behavior by the NFL by mistaking it for justice. Treating Brady like a criminal for breaking equipment rules doesn't make up for allowing hundreds of other criminals to play in the NFL every day so that the league can make millions. The NFL is making the rules up as they go with no regard for precedent or even the law, and that should be unacceptable to the fans who sustain their precious league. If you are going to hold the Patriots accountable then hold the league accountable too, and stop giving them the validation they are trying so desperately to manipulate out of you.