Well, sports fans, looks like we’ve picked up a swell new phrase to add to our ever-increasing lawyer-speak lexicon.
In the compelling, redundant, occasionally hilarious 243-page Wells Report, the phrase “it is more probable than not” is used on multiple occasions regarding whether Patriots officials – including quarterback Tom Brady – knowingly deflated game footballs before the AFC Championship Game.
Here’s the chief – and damning – paragraph:
For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, 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. In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.
Man, that’s a beauty. “It’s more probable than not.” And I thought Roger Clemens’s “misremembered” was a masterpiece of obfuscating lingo. What’s interesting is that in parsing through this story, it’s quickly apparent that the five-word phrase applies to many more elements of the Deflategate story than were resolved in the report. For instance.
It’s more probable than not… that McNally wishes right about now that he never got a smartphone. McNally, the Patriots employee whose duties included delivering game balls to game officials, exchanged text messages with equipment assistant John Jastremski about the air pressure of the footballs and Brady’s degrees of satisfaction with how they were prepared. The McNally-Jastremski correspondence offers the most damning evidence that Brady knew what was going on with the preparation of the footballs. It is also the most unintentionally hilarious, because they bitch about Brady and his demands like a couple of dorky 15-year-olds trashing the most popular girl in school when she’s out of earshot. Check out this correspondence between McNally and Jastremski, which the report says occurred on October 17, after Brady was annoyed with the air pressure of the footballs in a Thursday night win over the Jets:
McNally: Tom sucks…im going make that next ball a [expletive] balloon
Jastremski: Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done…
Jastremski: I told him it was. He was right though…
Jastremski: I checked some of the balls this morn… The refs [expletive] us…a few of then were at almost 16
Jastremski: They didnt recheck then after they put air in them
McNally: [Expletive] tom …16 is nothing…wait till next sunday
Jastremski: Omg! Spaz
I mean, get a load of these two. It’s a wonder they didn’t use emojis and exclamation points. It sure is going to be awkward the next time “Tom sucks” Brady runs into them in the Gillette Stadium hallways – and that’s on the long shot that McNally and Jastremski still have their jobs when the new season begins.
It is more probable than not… that Tom Brady is feeling embarrassed and exposed. And he should feel that way. Even with the vague language, they got him. Brady said during that impromptu, damage-control press conference the week after the AFC Championship Game: “I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing. I’m very comfortable saying that.” At another point, he said: “I didn’t alter the ball in any way.”
Now, I suppose that is the truth. He didn’t alter the ball – someone else apparently did it for him. And maybe his definition of “wrongdoing” differs somewhat from Ted Wells’s definition, or Colts general manager Ryan Grigson’s definition, or Bill Belichick’s definition. But the Wells Report seems to give us the closest thing to a confirmation as to why Brady carried himself with an unfamiliar awkwardness – wait, is Tom Brady actually nervous? – during that press conference: He knew much more about what was going on with those footballs than he was telling us. From the Wells Report:
Additional evidence of Brady’s awareness includes a material increase in the frequency of telephone and text communications between Brady and Jastremski shortly after suspicions of ball tampering became public on January 19. After not communicating by telephone or text message for more than six months (based on data retrieved from Jastremski’s cell phone), Brady and Jastremski spoke by telephone at least twice on January 19 (calls lasting a total of 25 minutes and 2 seconds), twice on January 20 (calls lasting a total of 9 minutes and 55 seconds) and twice on January 21 (calls lasting a total of 20 minutes and 52 seconds) before Jastremski surrendered his cell phone to the Patriots later that day for forensic imaging. These calls included conversations relatively early during the mornings of January 19 (7:26 a.m. for 13 minutes and 4 seconds), January 20 (8:22 a.m. for 6 minutes and 21 seconds) and January 21 (7:38 a.m. for 13 minutes and 47 seconds). Brady also took the unprecedented step of inviting Jastremski to the QB room (essentially Brady’s office) in Gillette Stadium on January 19 for the first and only time that Jastremski can recall during his twenty-year career with the Patriots, and Brady sent Jastremski text messages seemingly designed to calm Jastremski (“You good Jonny boy?”; “You doing good?”). For his part, Jastremski sent Brady text messages confirming that he was okay (“Still nervous; so far so good though”) and cautioning Brady about questioning 19 (“FYI…Dave will be picking your brain later about it. He’s not accusing me, or anyone…trying to get to bottom of it. He knows it’s unrealistic you did it yourself…”). In addition, we believe it is unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady’s knowledge and approval. Based on our interviews and assessment of McNally and Jastremski, we also do not believe that they would personally and unilaterally engage in such conduct in the absence of Brady’s awareness and consent.
Brady was B.S.-ing us. What I don’t get is why. Did Belichick, who was exonerated in this report, tell Brady to take that approach after a tell-us-what-you-know meeting before their separate press conferences that day? Or did Brady think the whole thing would eventually blow over and none of this would be discovered? Whatever the reason, it’s a rare bad read by Brady.
It’s more probable than not… that Roger Goodell is conflicted about how to proceed next. Public-relations blunder after public-relations blunder has taught us that he is a self-serious vacancy of a man who loves dropping his ball-peen hammer of justice at every opportunity. He loves it almost as much as he loves talking about “protecting the shield,” a reference to the league’s logo that barely disguises his true primary interest: making stacks and stacks of money and appeasing the league owners. But there’s a certain species of player that makes more money for those owners and enhances the image of the “shield” – the marquee quarterback. There has been no more prominent quarterback in NFL history – in terms of production and perception – than Tom Brady. Suspending him even for a game would mean the league would be without one of its all-time biggest stars in the first weekend of a new season. The Patriots open on Thursday night, September 10, against the Steelers. The game is on NBC, which pays the league approximately $950 million annually in rights fees. Think NBC wants Jimmy Garoppolo starting the opener? Neither do I.
It’s more probable than not… that the perception of the Patriots outside of New England isn’t going to change much. If you hated them before, you still hate them today. Perhaps you’re even emboldened, believing this confirms what you’ve believed since Spygate eight years ago: The Patriots are a bunch of cheating weasels, and nothing short of having their four Lombardi Trophies repossessed counts as justice. That’s hardly a new take. And if you’re a Patriots fan? You brush the deflation of footballs as a minor transgression that has been exaggerated because it involves the polarizing Patriots, stand by your team, and perhaps pop in that brand-new 3 Games To Glory DVD to clear your head. It sucks that all the fanbases whose teams have been vanquished by the Patriots will never pay their accomplishments proper respect. But deep down, you know the Patriots have given them reasons – however minor the actual misdeeds – to call them cheaters. SpyGate has a permanent companion now.
It’s more probable than not… that Robert Kraft isn’t getting anything resembling an apology from Roger Goodell. Actually, that one right there is a damn certainty. He’s waiting to hear from the commissioner again, of this there is it little doubt. But Goodell won’t be calling with an apology. He’ll be calling with the consequences.