Are we out of our freaking minds?
People, please, let’s get ahold of ourselves. Put down the outrage, even for a second. We are turning the amount of air in footballs into the biggest scandal in sports and nation’s most-talked-about news item. Or, at least, that’s what we’re doing when we’re not acting like 8-year-olds making jokes about deflated balls.
Otherwise reasonable people are talking about a coach being fired or suspended for the Super Bowl, or swiping a franchise’s entire draft class, or whether the defining quarterback of this generation’s Hall of Fame case is now tarnished.
More reporters showed up for Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s news conference on this than the one about how his tight end was arrested for murder. In case you are skimming through here: arrested for murder.
The Boston Globe — one of the country’s oldest media companies, winner of 23 Pulitzer Prizes — ran an apparently nonsatirical piece titled What can I tell my kids about Deflategate?
CBS News — this is the network of Walter Cronkite, for crying out loud — led with it. Actually, it’s not fair to single out CBS. All of the networks led with it. The day after the president’s State of the Union Address. The day that the king of Saudi Arabia died. The day the government announced the coalition fighting ISIS has killed some 6,000 fighters.
Guys. Gals. Especially media. Deep breaths. Are we out of our freaking minds?
Football has a thousand problems. Fundamental problems. The sport has been proven to cause brain damage. The NFL has been shown to — at the very least — be irresponsibly slow to acknowledge this. Former players are killing themselves. Parents increasingly do not want their kids playing.
A league-friendly “investigation” found inconsistencies in the commissioner’s storyabout his actions following a star running back knocking his then-fiancee out cold. That was only the beginning of an entirely scandalous and ugly season for the NFL. One of its least valuable franchises is in the process of effectively extorting hundreds of millions of public dollars from St. Louis, lest it skip town.
And we’re obsessing over pounds of air pressure per square inch in a football?
People in football — people who have no love for the Patriots, it’s worth pointing out — are laughing at this. This is comedy for them, the way that SNL skit on gentrification is comedy for the rest of us. Quarterbacks from Jake Plummer to Aaron Rodgers to Brad Johnson are talking publicly about things they’ve done to alter footballs in the way that you or I might talk about lunch.
This is not a small deal to them — it is no deal to them.
Because it is the NFL, there is a long and somewhat complicated protocol of how game balls are handled. Each team has 12 balls it must present within certain specifications and must never be placed on, inside or near heaters. Instructions are given to equipment managers about how these footballs are to be handled, and extra balls are to be bagged and placed at a specific area near the instant replay monitor.
This all sounds so official and important, and it is — it is so important that any violation of this strict protocol is subject to a, um, $25,000 fine.
That is less than three percent of one game check for Tom Brady. Basically, it is what he makes for one pass, incomplete or not.
This is, obviously, an apparent national scandal worthy of the attention of world’s only superpower only because it involves the Patriots.
This is the franchise of Spygate, of course, in which Belichick was found to have illegally taped an opponent’s defensive signals during a 2007 game. Belichick was fined $500,000 — the maximum penalty allowed by league rules, and the largest fine ever for a coach — and the team was fined and lost their first pick in the draft.
Belichick is easy to hate anyway, and so are the Patriots, what with their grumpy coach and golden boy quarterback and constant winning. Over and over you can hear references that the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since Spygate, and those references began to quicken when the Patriots stretched some formation rules in a divisional playoff win over the Ravens.
That history is now being used as the justification for going street justice on what NFL bylaws categorize as a relative parking ticket. Belichick has proven himself a cheater, so he gets no benefit of the doubt, no matter how little sense it makes that he would’ve been directly involved.
This is like pulling someone over for rolling through a stop sign, finding out that they served time in prison seven years ago, and then going through a jury trial about whether this person deserves to have his arms cut off.
No one — not even the Colts, who apparently turned the Patriots in — believes PSI had anything to do with New England making it to the Super Bowl. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was 11 of 21 with a touchdown and an interception using the doctored footballs in the first half, and 12 of 14 with two touchdowns and no interceptions using the standard equipment in the second half.
What are we talking about here?
The sanctity of a rule none of us knew before Sunday night? A rule that all of football agrees is broken all the time, and that NFL bylaws punish with what is effectively five minutes on the timeout chair?
We’ve got this all wrong. The question isn’t “What can I tell my kids about Deflategate?”
The question is: “Don’t we have something better to talk about?”
The answer, at least at the moment, appears to be no. Which, when you think about it, is as good an example as any as to why this is the greatest and most envied country in the world.