Part 3—Ahab in Wonderland: It has long been a basic precept of our press corps’ consensus scandals:
Verdict first, information never!
Information must never intrude on the prearranged judgment which permits the fun of consensus scandal.
Analysis? What’s that?
Who is the Ahab of the current scandal—the scandal concerning air pressure of footballs? That Ahab would seem to be Ryan Grigson, general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.
According to the NFL’s official “Wells report” (see page 45), Grigson sent an email to league officials before last January’s playoff game against the New English Patriots. It included a note about the bad conduct of Grigson’s personal whale:
EMAIL FROM COLTS OFFICIALS: As far as the game balls are concerned it is well known around the league that after the Patriots game balls are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys for the Patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don’t get an illegal advantage.Question: If it was “well known around the league” that the Patriots had been doctoring footballs, why had no one ever complained to the league before this?
The Wells report skips all such questions. In fairness, it did note this:
“The Grigson email did not contain any factual support for the suspicions raised, and the NFL was unaware of any factual support prior to the game.”
Lack of factual support is often observed at the start of our consensus scandals. Things spiral downward from there.
In this case, the NFL soon found itself seeking more information from the Colts. As a result, the Wells report goes on to describe the Colts’ previous encounter with their own personal white whale.
It happened in Week 11, the last time the Patriots played the Colts. Sean Sullivan is the Colts’ skillful equipment manager:
WELLS REPORT (page 46): During interviews, when asked to explain the source of their concerns about the Patriots game balls, Grigson, Sullivan, and other members of the Colts equipment staff referenced the Colts Week 11 game against the Patriots in Indianapolis. During that game, Colts strong safety Mike Adams intercepted two passes thrown by Tom Brady. On both occasions, Adams handed the footballs to Brian Seabrooks, an Assistant Equipment Manager for the Colts, on the sideline. Sullivan also examined the footballs because, as he described it, he always checks to see how other teams prepare their balls to “make sure no one is doing a better job.” Sullivan and Seabrooks said that the intercepted footballs appeared to be coated in a tacky substance and seemed spongy or soft when squeezed. They explained that even though they did not test the air pressure of the intercepted footballs at the time, based on their years of experience, the softness of the balls raised suspicions. They also cited unspecified chatter throughout the League that the Patriots prefer their footballs softer than other teams and that visiting teams should be on guard when playing at Gillette Stadium. They could not identify a specific source for this information or reference particular conversations.Just for the record, “unspecified chatter” is also widely observed at the start of consensus scandals.
Back in Week 11, Colts personnel didn’t attempt to measure the air pressure of the highly suspicious footballs their player intercepted. They based their suspicion on “their years of experience” and their presumed expertise.
That said, it may be just as well that the Colts didn’t try to perform an actual act of measurement. During the playoff game in January, they did attempt to conduct such a measurement of a ball which was intercepted.
Despite their years of experience, their attempt at measurement didn’t go especially well. The Wells report continues the tale. As it does, our first statistic appears:
WELLS REPORT (page 63): At approximately 7:47 p.m., during the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass thrown by Tom Brady. Following the interception upon reaching the sideline, Jackson handed the ball to David Thornton, the Colts Director of Player Engagement, near the Colts bench and Thornton immediately handed the ball to Assistant Equipment Manager Brian Seabrooks. According to Seabrooks, he believed that the ball felt similar to the footballs intercepted by Mike Adams during the Colts game against the Patriots earlier in the season, so he asked one of the team‟s equipment interns to locate a pressure gauge and test the inflation level of the intercepted ball. The intern used a digital pressure gauge similar to the gauge used by the Colts to set their footballs before the game, and reported that the pressure measured approximately 11 psi. Seabrooks then walked with the intercepted football to Equipment Manager Sean Sullivan, who squeezed the ball and agreed that it felt soft.The Wells report doesn’t explain the basis on which the Colts believed they had the right to measure one of the Patriots’ footballs. Concern for the NFL’s sacred rules is selectively observed in this official report.
At any rate:
For unknown reasons, the Colts directed an intern to measure the pressure of the ball. The intern reported that it “measured approximately 11 psi.”
Conducting his own detailed probe, Sullivan “squeezed the ball and agreed that it felt soft.” But thanks to the intern’s work, we now had our first statistic.
We also had the start of a farce in which the NFL established the fact that it didn’t know how to measure air pressure as of the date in question.
Uh-oh! As events unfolded on the day of the playoff game, NFL officials proceeded to measure the air pressure of that same football.
In fact, they measured it three different times. Needless to say, they came up with three different readings, as revealed on page 70 of the Wells report:
11.35 psi; 11.45 psi; 11.75 psi.
The Wells report doesn’t say what air pressure gauge was used to produce that welter of readings. But by now, the NFL had nailed it down! The air pressure of the intercepted football was one of the values shown below. You can take your pick!
11.0 psi; 11.35 psi; 11.45 psi; 11.75 psi
It was like the old joke about the weather. If you don’t like the air pressure readings in New England, just wait a while!
Perhaps you’re starting to see our general point. Although it never bats an eye at the chaos it is describing, the Wells report goes on to describe ludicrous conduct by a gang which couldn’t measure air pressure straight.
For this one football alone, the Wells report presents four different air pressure readings, across a rather wide range. And the league’s attempts at data collection only became more clownish from there, as we’ve described in previous reports.
After its clownish attempts at data collection, the league proceeded to Step 2 in its probe—the dissemination of false information to the press corps and the Patriots.
A bunch of false statistics quickly appeared at ESPN and NBC Sports, attributed to “NFL sources.” And that wasn’t all! On page 100, the Wells report quotes a letter the NFL sent to the Patriots on the day after the game.
The letter was written by David Gardi, the NFL’s highly august Senior Vice President of Football Operations. This is part of what Senior Vice President Gardi falsely wrote:
LETTER FROM THE NFL TO THE PATRIOTS: The inspection, which involved each ball being inspected twice with different gauges, revealed that none of the Patriots‟ game balls were inflated to the specifications required under Rule 2, Section 1. In fact, one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12½ to 13½ psi. In contrast, each of the Colts‟ game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above.In fact, none of the footballs had been recorded at anywhere close to 10.1 psi on either of the NFL’s clownish dueling gauges. On page 101, the Wells report, seeing no evil in senior vice presidents, explains this small tiny completely understandable accidental minor pointless mistake:
WELLS REPORT (page 101): In fact, none of the Patriots game balls measured 10.1 psi when they were tested at halftime. We believe that there was an inadvertent error in communication of the results to Gardi. The NFL personnel providing the air pressure information to Gardi at the time did not have copies of the documents on which the measurements had been recorded by Richard Farley and were relying on memory alone. We do not believe that this error raises any doubt about the accuracy of the measurements recorded by Farley or any other relevant issue...In any event, with the knowledge and approval of League staff, we subsequently provided all of the air pressure data to counsel for the Patriots during the course of the investigation subject to a confidentiality commitment.They relied on memory alone! At this point, you might also describe the NFL as “the gang that can’t write letters straight!”
The Wells report must be one of the most farcical documents ever released to the press corps. In the passage we’ve just posted, you see its authors blithely accepting a claim of innocence on behalf of the organization which was paying their very large fees—an organization which had apparently provided false information to the Patriots and to the national press corps.
Gardi was quickly given a pass for his astonishing conduct. But all through this same report, its authors turn backflips looking for ways to interpret every comment by their Patriotic targets in a criminal light.
On its face, this dual standard is farcical, and perhaps not obsessively honest. By the way:
Under the “confidentiality agreement” cited in the passage above, the NFL apparently told the Patriots that they couldn’t correct the false information which had appeared in the press. As of late March, the Patriots were finally allowed to see the real numbers—just so long as they agreed that the press and the public wouldn’t be told!
We’ve rarely seen a crazier document than the Wells report. It describes farcical conduct by the NFL, an organization which seemed to have no idea how air pressure works in footballs, or how it can be measured.
The Wells report describes farcical conduct by the NFL, but it never seems to notice. It also seems to describe dishonest conduct by the NFL. That too escapes its ken.
On its face, the Wells report has the look of a farcical document which isn’t obsessively honest. But by the time it was handed to the press, the outlines of our latest consensus scandal had already been settled.
Tomorrow, we’ll return to the New York Times to see how that famous newspaper presented the farcical problems which litter the Wells report. Let’s just say that these farcical elements were all disappeared by the Times.
Verdict first, information never! As the press corps happily clowned with its latest consensus scandal, an Ahab among the Colts met the Alice in Wonderland standards which have long prevailed across our “national press corps.”
Information never! Tomorrow, the pitiful Times.