Lack of crucial evidence would seem to be a reasonable ponderance for innocence, but this isn't the O.J. trial. This is the NFL.
Anyone who's climbed out of their real world routines for a moment and into the one dominated by tweets, headlines and TV specials has to have heard just about all of the arguments for or against the Patriots in the "DeflateGate" controversy by now.
The story, in sum, is the Patriots were accused of using illegally deflated footballs in the AFC Championship game, which give a competitive advantage. Just over three months and a 200+ page report later, the team's franchise quarterback, Tom Brady, was suspended and the team was fined $1 million and two draft picks.
The question of Tom Brady's legacy is irrelevant. His place as the greatest quarterback of all time was always subjective, not cemented, and if the lessons of history have taught us anything, it's that today's heroes turn quickly into yesterday's dust with each passing generation. Eventually, someone would pass Tom Brady in the public eye as greatest quarterback of all time - maybe that mantle would eventually even fall to Aaron Rodgers, whom likes his footballs over-inflated.
The question then, is what is the real problem with "Deflategate?"
It's obvious that facts have never entered into the question. I've read the Wells report, as have many others, it's hard to find one sliver of evidence in the lengthy sometimes excessively detailed report. Given the shady history of Exponent (the company that contributed to the scientific research in the report and once found that second hand smoke does not cause cancer), questioning the legitimacy of the reports "best guess" findings is simple and about as overplayed these days as the initial infraction.
Facts and answers were never the NFL's number one concern in this, unfortunately, neither is it the concern of the media's.
NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell has come under a lot of scrutiny ever since giving Ravens runningback Ray Rice a slap on the wrist last Spring for knocking his fiance unconscious in a hotel elevator. The firestorm that erupted from that controversy trickled into the start of the regular season, and was further exacerbated when another star runningback, Adrian Peterson, was charged with beating his young sun to a bloody pulp.
The NFL had some big controversies on their hands. They also had a lot of attention.
One could easily compare these instances to Deflategate and realize that something just doesn't add up. Tom Brady and the Patriots get four games for a misdemeanor, more than or comprable to that of Ray Rice or PED users - crimes much more harmful to either society or the game of football. This is another common trope you've heard over whatever media outlet you prefer the past 24 hours.
It also misses the point.
In an ideal world, yes, those penalties may dictate the breadth of punishment what the NFL hands down to subsequent offenders, but the NFL is under no such restrictions. Roger Goodell has autonomous power. He earns his $44 million for a reason.
Amidist the Rice controversy, it was Patriots owner Robert Kraft that came out in staunch defense of the commisioner in a time of need, with many calling for his job. All is not bad with Roger, particulalry how he feeds the owners' pockets. If there is one thing Goodell seems to be good at in his role of commissioner, it's making money.
The reality of what the NFL sees in these past controversies, and the coverage of their ensuing punishments is what any good business man would see. Dollar signs.
To say that a CEO of one of the largest money making machines in the United States of America would be more concerned with what earns dollars than making just, morally grounded decisions shouldn't seem like that much of a leap.
Don't be fooled. The NFL did not learn to take domestic violence seriously after the Ray Rice investigation. Deadspin proved this a few months ago with their investigation of the NFL's new domestic violence partner. In short, it's a sham. That story didn't get nearly the coverage of the Ray Rice debacle, the Adrian Peterson story and certainly not Deflategate. The public, or at least the media, didn't really seem to care that much either.
What they did learn was a new way to dominate headlines, and it has little to do with the game of football.
What the public does care about is the kind of controversy they can relate to, not corporate immorality, but the kind of stuff soap operas are made of.
The oft-successful, unorthodox, arrogant Patriots organization falling from grace was a storyline many were hoping to see play out in this year's Super Bowl. Lying arrogant cheaters with loose morals being punished for what they deserve. That's how most of the general public thinks of the New England Patriots. The Evil Empire, taken down and finally paying the price for their misdeeds. It sounds like the plot of Star Wars, and it's just as similar a money making machine.
The initial press conferences of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick addressing the Deflategate controversy back in January earned Gillette, the Patriots sponsor, about $4 million worth of free advertising.
While we're in the business of connecting superfluous dots and making erroneous assumptions - a la the Wells report - we can conclude that it is "more probable than not" that a few major corporations, like Walt Disney, saw this as a money making opportunity and were knocking on the NFL's door asking for more.
This isn't about whether Tom Brady asked his ballboys to delfate the team footballs by a few PSI or not. This isn't even necessarily about the egregious punishment the team and quarterback received in the aftermath. This is about the state of modern sports itself.
One need only look to the history of Professional Wrestling and you'll find how that company saw the dollar signs behind controversy. The NFL may not fix it's games, but they have surely exploited the power of drama.
The timing of the report cannot be a coincidence. The time between the draft and training camp is traditionally a dead zone in the cog of NFL news, as someone who's run a blog dedicated to the sport for the past three years I can testify to that. Recently though, that hasn't necessarily been the case.
In 2013 we had Aaron Hernandez murdering his friend Odin Lloyd in June. In 2014 we had the Ray Rice controversy filling some of the Spring headlines.
Again, the point here isn't to say that the NFL framed Tom Brady and the Patriots. The point is that the NFL took advantage of it.
The Wells report reveals that both NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino and Goodell did indeed have knowledge of the Patriots' deflated ball accusation, BEFORE the AFC Championship game. A fact that both denied prior to the Super Bowl. Why would they allow the Patriots to play a game if they knew they were using illegal game balls?
Contrary to popular belief, it's "more probable than not" that the NFL does not seek to avoid controvesy. Much like the WWE, they embrace it.
The results of the Wells report do not matter either way. They could have exonerated the Patriots, the NFL wins either way.
In today's social media, TV-dopamine driven world - content is money. Controversy breeds content. A lot of it.
Smart organizations like the NFL and ESPN know this, and tailor their content to create even more content.
Take the NFL's converage last night of the Brady suspension - where they dolled out a lineup that included Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and LaDanian Tomlinson. All have an axe to grind against the Patriots. It not only panders to a Patriots hating public, but it raises the chance of some hard semi-controversial sports takes, that can in turn generate more articles, radio interviews and tv segments.
No one knows this better than ESPN, who love exploiting the self created cycle that controversy creates. The initial coverage of DeflateGate saw former players such as Jerome Bettis and Mark Brunell suddenly getting ballooned air time. Mark Brunell crying on air when he didn't believe Brady in his press conference made it viral. It's more probable than not that his ESPN bosses loved that.
ESPN can put Michael Wilbon on air to exclaim that the Patriots should be banned from the SuperBowl, and then use that for content in tweets, TV segments, radio talk shows and columns and blog posts ESPN.com.
It's an old trick for the four letter network, who's most egregious offense was putting on Chris Broussard amidst the Jason Collins coming out as gay story knowing full well his controversial anti-gay stance.
Controversy out of controversy. It never ends.
Everyone except the Patriots has won in this Deflategate controversy. The league, the networks - hell even the blogs. I'd be hardpressed to admit that our site doesn't enjoy a huge boon of May pageviews due to Tom Brady maybe being generally aware of some slightly deflated footballs. Hell, want to buy a FREE BRADY t-shirt?! Go ahead!
The facts may have gone by the wayside, but this is America. Money is the only thing that matters.
Barring appeal, Tom Brady's due to come back from suspension against the Indianapolis Colts - who started the whole controversy in the first place - in Week 5 on Sunday Night Football.
Will you be tuning in?