After flipping through 243 pages of the Wells Report in addition to the 10 terabytes of bandwidth the New England Patriots dedicated to their detailed reply, the only thing we've learned in the last 72 hours is team employee John Jazstremski is hung like a tortilla chip.
The second biggest takeaway is the NFL is no different than other major sports leagues in terms of attacking threats to the integrity of the game with more impetus and purpose than off-field issues.
Case in point, the Ray Rice incident. In what has been widely considered one of the most egregious, heinous acts of violence caught on a grainy security camera, Rice cold-cocked his wife and knocked her unconscious in a casino elevator in February. Amidst its complete mishandling of what should've been a slam-dunk punishment – including the obvious lie in which commissioner Roger Goodell claimed he didn't see the real video until after handing down his original verdict – the league initially suspended Rice for two games.
On the contrary, Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady received a four-game suspension Monday for his alleged involvement in – and general knowledge of – the Deflategate scandal in addition to his failure to fully comply with attorney Ted Wells' investigation.
This imbalance of justice has put the Twitterverse in full troll mode with some loyal fans going as far as to suggest Brady would've been better off beating his wife than participating in and covering up a deliberate attempt to illegally deflate footballs prior to the start of the AFC Championship Game in January.
It's a humorous narrative fit for internet memes, but the reality is the NFL's verdict in Deflategate is standard operating procedure in the sports world, where most leagues – right or wrong – will value the integrity of their product more than the lives of those affected by their employees' abhorrent real-world behavior.
The NFL has a personal conduct policy it expects its players to follow – a policy it has since amended in the wake of its self-admitted flubbing of the Rice fiasco – but the reality is no commissioner or high-ranking league official can fully control what athletes do once they're off the clock. There aren't enough ex-cops-turned-private investigators to ensure every player isn't rolling blunts or whipping his kid's testicles with a tree branch after hours.
What the NFL can do is police what happens on the field, between the lines, in the locker room or – in this bizarre case – in a single-stall bathroom tucked away in the bowels of Gillette Stadium. And make no mistake, the league has zero tolerance for any player or organization attempting to break the rules and disrupt the competitive balance it's worked so hard to maintain. It's akin to ripping off your tank top right in front of the “No shirt, no service” sign at Dunkin’ Donuts. Despite their cries of malfeasance and outrage, it's proven fans will tolerate players' boorish behavior as long as what they're seeing on the field is real. If they have reason to believe it's bogus, they might as well watch WrestleMania.
The need to preserve a level playing field is the reason Pete Rose is banned from baseball while crazed pitcher John Rocker got hit with a 28-game suspension more than a decade ago for referring to New York subway patrons as “queers with AIDS,” lamenting the city's surplus of foreigners and calling teammate Randall Simon a “fat monkey” in a now-infamous Sports Illustrated cover story.
The repetitive, “At least he didn’t kill anybody!” defense would certainly apply to Rose, arguably the game's greatest hitter, but the former three-time batting champion is a baseball pariah because he bet on the sport while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He blatantly spit on the integrity of the game. Rocker didn't (at least not until he admitted years after his retirement that he, too, used performance enhancing drugs). He was just a racist, homophobic nitwit with the mental make-up of an over-caffeinated toddler. Rose might've been a cheater, but you'd let him babysit your kids long before you handed the car seat to Rocker, unless you were worried about Rose gambling away your child. The punishment didn't fit the real-world crime. Why would it? The sports world is a whimsical universe constantly orbiting the absurd and irrational.
The rare exception where off-field character presided above all else was the Donald Sterling incident in which the loathed NBA owner was banned for life for racist comments made during a secretly-recorded phone conversation with his mistress (that, by the way, is what constitutes a sting operation). But the decision handed down by commission Adam Silver had more to do with the fact Silver was only three months into his new position as David Stern's replacement, looking to make an immediate impact and gain the respect of his peers in his first real crisis at the helm.
When all else fails, leagues will always rule with an iron fist on crimes against the game's integrity because it's the one thing they can control. The element of the unknown and the possibility of seeing something amazing and unscripted every time you turn on the TV or buy a ticket is what keeps fans coming back despite the continuous decay of our sports idols' moral fabric. A blow to any league's decorum and impartiality is a potential blow to the wallet. Mess with the bottom line and you’ll feel a wrath greater than that of any sex offender or wife beater.
To paraphrase Wells, it's “more than probable” Goodell considers Brady a much nicer guy than Rice, but it's also clear he thinks Brady knowingly thumbed his nose at the rules, like an impulsive teenager who sneaks off to his friend's house despite being told to spend the night in his bedroom. Anyone who's paid attention knows that's the ultimate sin in the sports world.
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