Terrible Tom?

Tom Brady built a stellar career and reputation in the NFL, to the extent that he was increasingly being viewed as the best quarterback in the history of the league. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, “Tom Terrific” has been nothing short of astounding. With four titles, two league MVPs, and 10 Pro Bowl selections in his 13 full seasons, there are few statistics remaining that Brady has yet to surpass.

However, his legacy has recently taken a big hit, especially outside New England. A January AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in their most recent run to the Super Bowl set the stage for an incredible sequence of events. Acting on a complaint by a Colts executive that the Patriots were violating league rules regarding the inflation levels of footballs, the NFL measured the Patriots footballs at halftime of their game against the Colts. Upon finding that they were deflated below the league minimum, the NFL launched an investigation headed by an independent attorney name Ted Wells. This episode was quickly coined “Deflategate.” When Ted Wells released his report on May 6, he concluded that it was “more probable than not” that two equipment-related Patriots staffers deflated footballs, and that Tom Brady was “generally aware” of this violation. His report also noted that the Patriots and Tom Brady were not fully cooperative in the investigation. This set off a frenzied discussion with supporters of Tom Brady and Patriots, largely from New England, slamming the report as biased, incomplete, and inconclusive. On the other hand, most outside of New England, concluded that the report was further evidence of a continued pattern by the Patriots of skirting the rules, and that a stiff punishment was in order. The NFL quickly took action, and on May 11, suspended Tom Brady for 4 games and docked the Patriots two draft picks, including a first round pick in 2016, and a million dollars.

However, there is always the question, why? Why did Tom Brady put himself in this situation? It is clear that he did not need this competitive advantage. His performance against the Colts, which they won overwhelmingly with a 45-7 score, and his incredible performance against the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl is clear evidence that he is the best quarterback in the league, regardless of the inflation level of the football. Yet, he knew that the NFL was seeking somebody to punish so that they could save face after national outrage at their handling of prior investigations. He knew that should he get caught, the punishment would be swift and intense, despite the fact that it was not even a major violation. But the entire series of events was entirely unnecessary, more likely than not, the outcome of the game would not have differed if the footballs were inflated to league guidelines.

The punishment levied against Tom Brady for a minor rule infraction is stronger than the initial punishment levied against Ray Rice for his domestic abuse and is at the same level as those that the league hands to players caught using performance enhancement drugs. So, in the eyes of the NFL, is a minor rule infraction of the same magnitude as domestic abuse or performance enhancing drugs? In my opinion, I don’t believe the punishment befits the ‘crime.’

Tom Brady is appealing his suspension, and it will be several weeks before the final punishment is known. However, his reputation has taken a big, yet unfair, hit. Tom Brady made the headline news on ESPN, CNN, and every major national retail and news outlet, but for the wrong reason. It didn’t matter that there was no definitive evidence that Tom Brady had been directly involved in the “scandal.’ The court of public opinion is fickle, and often quite difficult to reverse. The Patriots’ winning seasons, four Super Bowl wins, Brady’s success on a professional and personal level have all made them easy targets.

Unfortunately, the allegations, the report, and the subsequent suspension have tarnished Tom Brady’s legacy. Instead of being on the Mount Rushmore of football with legends like Joe Montana, he is being grouped with Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and Roger Clemens. One minor error and its subsequent cover up has forever tarnished Brady’s legacy outside of New England. As it stands now, rather than being celebrated across the nation for his great accomplishments during such a storied career, “Tom Terrific” is left to ponder the basic question: Why?