- Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Senior Writer
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Raise your hand if you've heard enough.
Deflategate has gone off the rails, a trumped up controversy that has disintegrated into a finger-pointing, mud-slinging debacle in which nobody wins and the NFL emerges as the biggest loser.
The news that Tom Brady's four-game suspension was upheld is merely another chapter in the simultaneous dismantling of the reputations of two of the most visible faces of America's most vibrant and popular sport: commissioner Roger Goodell and Brady, the quarterback who once exemplified everything the NFL "shield" hoped to embody.
But that was before PSI levels and decimated cellphones and an unwieldy weapon termed "general knowledge" that so swiftly and gravely wounded a football hero.
Goodell's investigation of Brady is no longer about deflated footballs, it's about restoring credibility and salvaging reputations and compensating attorneys.
Lots and lots of attorneys.
Don't even suggest this case is about the "integrity of the game."
Is there truly any such thing?
Brady didn't know it at the time, but he was in trouble the day Goodell sat down with Ray Rice and his then fiancée Janay, and listened to their account of a disturbing domestic violence allegation. The commissioner is all about transparency, so when the couple provided an emotional account of what transpired in that elevator in Atlantic City, the commish rewarded them for their honesty and imposed a mere two-game suspension. He later had the audacity to suggest that penalty was "consistent" with league policy.
But then the video was leaked and the images were so gruesome that Goodell was faced with the biggest crisis of his career. He appeared weak, soft, uninformed. He punted on domestic violence and his job was hanging in the balance because of it.
It was time to take a hard line -- on everything -- and the best way to accomplish that was to make up the rules as he went along.
That meant Rice was toast, Adrian Peterson, too, and although Greg Hardy initially slithered free from his own ghastly domestic abuse charges, Goodell also nailed him in the end -- until an arbitrator corrected his suddenly overzealous reach.
In the meantime, along came Brady, who might or might not have known that attendants of the Patriots might or might not have deflated footballs. Brady's ardent defenders point out there was no proper technique to (or history of) measuring the deflation of footballs, and that the Wells report, which handed down the initial four-game ban, was nebulous, at best, in proving he did anything against the rules.
How could Goodell possibly hand down a penalty akin to football players belting women or steroid users skirting the system for the PSI level of a spiral?
Goodell must have felt he had to come down hard, because it wasn't just the Indianapolis Colts who were clamoring for justice. There were a number of other powerful owners who wanted to see those "cheating" Patriots suffer. Spygate is New England's albatross; proven, documented evidence of a franchise's arrogance, an incident that has spawned the narrative of "once a cheater, always a cheater."
This is what Brady waded into, and he didn't help himself by refusing to hand over his cellphone and then later, according to the NFL, instructing his assistant to destroy it.
We don't know what that phone would have revealed, and it appears unclear if we will ever know. Brady's agent, Don Yee, disputed the NFL's version of Brady's cooperation, stating that his client provided an "unprecedented amount of electronic data."
And so the plot thickens, and sickens.
If Goodell had reduced Brady's sentence, he would have, in essence, ruled against himself. He also would have undermined Ted Wells, the man he paid millions to investigate the controversy, which is exactly why he should not have been the arbiter in this appeal.
The players union has said Brady will go to court to amend this issue, so the madness continues.
I get it. Brady feels as though he's done nothing wrong and his reputation is at stake, but nothing he does now can reverse the court of public opinion, which tried and convicted him months ago in every state of the union except a smattering of New England strongholds.
What Brady needs to do is swallow hard, accept the suspension and move on from this awful mess. Is the penalty too harsh? Of course, but it doesn't matter anymore what Brady did or didn't do -- and that's a shame. It's all about posturing now. Brady wants the penalty to signify a lack of cooperation; nothing more. Goodell wants the penalty to reflect his grasp of his football empire; nothing less.
Goodell is trying to reclaim some semblance of authority and credibility. He can't afford to show the slightest hint of sentimentality or favoritism toward Brady or Robert Kraft, because he's beholden to a bloc of owners who sign his checks and control his destiny.
So now it is all about Goodell's massaging his own legacy, and the union flexing its muscles, and Brady stubbornly standing his ground, and the attorneys filing their billable hours.
It's about everything except football, and it will only get worse. If Brady and Goodell land in court, both will suffer, both will be sullied further, and both will lose, regardless of the outcome.
Raise your hand if you've had enough.
Hopefully Brady agrees.
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