Deflategate's 'More Probable Than Not' Conclusion

An NFL investigation suggests that the New England Patriots may have made 'a deliberate effort' to deflate footballs during the AFC Championship Game in January.

Matt Slocum / AP

Updated 5/7/15

The madness accompanying the release of the Deflategate report carried on into Thursday. Local Boston media suggested that the engineering firm that helped conduct the investigation into the scandal had once denied that secondhand smoke causes cancer. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots standout tight end, flexed his muscles in response to a reporter's question about the story.


However, much of the focus of the investigation's aftermath has centered on Tom Brady, whose legacy as one of the game's all-time great quarterbacks may have been tarnished by his implication in the scandal.

As commentators call for his suspension (and even his exile to Oakland), the four-time Super-Bowl winner has yet to directly address the allegations. Don Yee, Brady's agent, issued a statement on Thursday in which he called the report "a significant and terrible disappointment."

Echoing Patriots' owner Robert Kraft, Yee also cast doubt on the credibility of the investigation. "This report contains significant and tragic flaws, and it is common knowledge in the legal industry that reports like this generally are written for the benefit of the purchaser."

On Wednesday, pro football conspiracy theorists hit "probable" paydirt after an investigation suggested that the New England Patriots may have "participated in a deliberate effort to release air" from game balls during the AFC Championship Game in January.

The scandal, soon to be labeled #Deflategate, sparked an almighty ruckus in the aftermath of the Patriots' 45-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts. (It certainly didn't help that the team had previously been disciplined for illegally videotaping opposing coaches' signals during a game in 2007.) Following the victory over the Colts, the Patriots went on to Super Bowl XLIX, where they defeated the Seattle Seahawks for the title.

The 243-page report was commissioned after the league found that 11 of 12 game balls used by the Patriots in the game "were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements," as ESPN's Chris Mortensen noted at the time. The allegations of tampering sparked heavy debate on everything from the ethics to the physics of the game and everything in between.

According to Theodore Wells, the lawyer who led the investigation, the primary goal was to look into "the circumstances surrounding the use by the Patriots of footballs inflated at below-regulation air pressure levels during the AFC Championship Game, including whether Patriots personnel were involved in deliberate efforts to circumvent the Playing Rules."

The report concluded, somewhat unsatisfactorily, that "it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules."

The investigation also implicated the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, suggesting that he "was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities." While the report exonerated Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, it also implicated Jim McNally, a locker room attendant, who was accused of taking footballs from the officials' locker room and entering "the bathroom with the game balls for approximately one minute and forty seconds."

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, issued an anodyne statement on Wednesday in which he said that the matter would be passed on to Troy Vincent, a former player, who now serves at the league's executive vice president of football operations.

As with other recent matters involving violations of competitive rules, Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type.

On Wednesday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft responded defiantly to the report, reiterating "that the New England Patriots had done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of the NFL rules."

"As compelling a case as the Wells Report may try to make," Kraft's statement added, "I am going to rely on the factual evidence of numerous scientists and engineers rather than inferences from circumstantial evidence." Despite all this, Kraft said he would accept whatever disciplinary action the league deemed necessary.

No matter what happens, and many have argued that the controversy never mattered to begin with, no plausible outcome or punishment will change the fact that the New England Patriots won another Super Bowl. Just two weeks ago, the president received the team at the White House and, yes, cracked a joke about the scandal.

I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat. All right, all right, all right, that whole story got blown a little out of proportion.

Belichick gave the jokes two thumbs down. The rest of the team laughed.