For most of this week I’ve resisted delivering a steaming hot take about this “deflategate” story because I could not force myself to give even the slightest of fucks. It’s been difficult to care about the bereaved and aggrieved Patriots nation of fans who are in full froth over their Super Bowl–winning team being branded as cheaters. I also wasn’t overly concerned with the tarnishing of quarterback Tom Brady’s legacy. If anything, this story only mattered to me insofar as I truly wondered—since the NFL believes that the Patriots swindled their way through the playoffs—why they didn’t have to just give up their precious Lombardi Trophy. After all, forfeiting the championship was the brutal judgment delivered unto the USA Little League Champions Jackie Robinson West. I wanted to challenge Roger Goodell to go to the South Side of Chicago and hold a public lecture on why a billion-dollar football entity and their jet-setting golden boy quarterback was not being held to the same standard as the first all African-American Little League team.
But then something about this story burrowed under my skin like an inch-sized tick: the financial penalty levied against the Patriots. While Boston wept over Brady’s four-game suspension and howled over the team’s loss of draft picks, that $1 million fine stuck in my craw. I know a million bucks seems like piffle for a franchise with a market price in excess of $2.5 billion. But like nothing else, this $1 million fine signifies the rebooted and refortified arrogance of Roger Goodell. After a year when the commissioner’s job was on the ropes as he stood humbled over his historic bungling of domestic violence issues in his league, Goodell is feeling his oats. This fine represents an audacious, “Empire Strikes Back” level of self-regard. He might as well find an aircraft carrier to land on, with a Mission Accomplished banner in the background.
So what makes this seemingly small fine such an act of hellacious hubris? According to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL cannot issue any fine in excess of $500,000. How did this become 1 million bucks? Well, according to “Goodell logic” the Patriots are fined $500,000 for deflating the balls and another $500,000 for Tom Brady’s “refusal to cooperate” with the investigation. Like Kuato from Total Recall, it’s a fine within a fine! In other words, Brady would not disclose his phone records and assorted affects that could tie him to the conspiracy of the flaccid balls and Goodell is sending a message that not coming clean is a punishable as well as unpardonable sin.
My goodness. Roger Goodell punishing people for not disclosing data would be like Mike Huckabee criticizing people for intolerance. This is the same Roger Goodell who refused to open the NFL’s financial books during the lockout out of 2011 when the union asked for proof about his laughable contention that some teams were losing money. This is the same Roger Goodell who has refused to disclose the NFL’s treasure trove of medical data and scientific theories regarding the long-term affects of the head traumas that take place during every game. This is the same Roger Goodell who made sure that when the 2013 concussion lawsuit, involving over 4,500 former players, was settled, a condition of that settlement would be that these records would forever remain under lock and key. This is the same Roger Goodell who claims a historic drop in the number of concussions in the 2014 season without disclosing the data or methodology that emboldens him to assert this, even as the league’s numbers are scoffed at by medical professionals. This is the same Roger Goodell who does the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge while issuing denials that there is any connection between football and ALS. This is the same Roger Goodell who says that his soccer-playing daughter has a concussion risk “almost greater than” a pro football player’s. This is the same Roger Goodell who has done nothing to disclose to NFL families the new data that suggest bruising to the frontal lobe of the brain could affect temper and impulse control among players, putting families at risk of intimate partner violence. We are talking about a man who lives in an igloo of secrecy but wants players to open up their lives or risk sanction and humiliation. This is the person in charge of the NFL: a man who wants full disclosure for the benefit of the league but won’t disclose a thing for the benefit of the general public.
It was announced today that the Patriots would be appealing the fine and suspension levied by the league. The person they are appealing to? That would be Commissioner Goodell. Everyone is talking about Tom Brady, but, honestly, we’ve been looking in the wrong direction. It’s not Tom Brady we should be worried about. It’s Roger Goodell. The balls on this guy…