New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick played Pontius Pilate at a nationally broadcast press conference on DeflateGate — the scandal over deflated air pressure in the team’s footballs during the AFC championship.
Belichick, who ended the press conference abruptly after 11 minutes, said he was “shocked” by the revelation and claimed he “never talked to any player or staff member” about football air pressure. Belichick said repeatedly he “had no explanation for what happened.”
His press conference may have added to the controversy. He said reporters would have to check with his quarterback (Tom Brady) to learn more about Brady’s air pressure preferences. An old tape of Brady surfaced yesterday where he indicated he preferred lower inflated footballs to throw. Belichick appeared to shift the focus to Brady with the comment.
Belichick’s situation is complicated by baggage. The NFL fined him a half-million dollars for his role in 2007 SpyGate, when the Patriots broke the rules by using videotape to steal signals. He is also known as incredibly detail oriented, making the “I knew nothing” defense more difficult to believe. It is Belichick’s job to know what his staff may or may not have done.
After fumbles over domestic violence, concussions and bounty money, to name a few, the NFL Commissioner’s current credibility makes resolution of the latest problem more difficult. The NFL assumes it has an unlimited supply of passes for public relations messes. This is risky thinking.
In the meantime, DeflateGate is far from deflated.
People have short memories. Those now claiming the NFL’s integrity is at stake over the controversy involving replacement refs have forgotten the league once used replacement players during a strike. Yet, when that episode ended, fans returned in greater numbers than ever before and so too did the billions of dollars in revenue.
Many are exaggerating the impact of the replacement refs’ problem on the NFL. Fans have always complained about the refs. When the regulars do come back, this will continue. The replacements provide additional incentive to complain. That’s not to deny the refs are struggling. The call that ended the Packers’ game was embarrassing. But we forget how many controversies the regular refs created. Some poor officiating is as much a part of the NFL as dropped passes and blown coverage.
As long as the NFL produces a product viewers want to see, it will flourish. To be clear, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL are getting a black eye over this, but this will soon be ancient history once a settlement is reached.
What is most significant are the implications this fight may have on management-labor relations nationwide. The fight between the owners and refs is largely over pensions and job security. Does that sound familiar? If the eventual outcome affects how those matters are resolved elsewhere, that is far more important than whether or not your favorite football team wins on Sunday.