Science and Bad Faith in the Deflate-gate Scandal

As anyone who has been alive in America over the past week knows, the New England Patriots have been accused of deflating the footballs they used in the first half of their crushing triumph over the Indianapolis Colts.
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In Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes elucidated: "I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." If Holmes was talking about sports - he was not - it likely would have been about the rake of the pitch in cricket or soccer. The same dictum certainly applies to American football. We have witnessed an unprecedented blame game by the popular media about what it sees as the latest scandal in Foxborough. The only thing that was missing was data.

As anyone who has been alive in America over the past week knows, the New England Patriots have been accused of deflating the footballs they used in the first half of their crushing triumph over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots' verdict of guilty before trial is likely the product of two phenomena: the long stretch between conference championship games and the Super Bowl and a deep-seated animosity many hold against the most successful NFL franchise in the last fifteen years. Add to this mix a charming golden-boy quarterback married to a supermodel. Tom Brady, picked from obscurity in the sixth round, will be a first ballot Hall of Famer however the next Super Bowl turns out.

Troy Aikman, the prime color commentator for Fox NFL broadcasts, announced his own verdict with certainty: Brady was the culprit. "My guess it was his request, it was the way he preferred to throw with them and that's why it was done." While that is defamatory, it is much more likely the result of Aikman's surprising lack of knowledge. In fact, no one apparently had any data as to how this all could have happened. The NFL hired trial attorney Ted Wells to work with Jeff Pash, the NFL's General Counsel, to conduct a thorough study of the "alleged" football deflation. By week's end, those involved in the investigation had interviewed forty people, but, as far as we have been told, no smoking gun has been found.

Nonetheless, the pundits continue to pronounce that the Patriots guilty of a grievous assault on the integrity of America's game. Since the Patriots club videotaped Jets' coaches in 2007 who were publicly signaling plays - a rule violation for which the club suffered serious penalties - they obviously were at it again, recidivist defilers of the rule book. Mostly, the media just did not like Bill Belichick, the head coach of the Pats who is clearly the brightest and most inventive football guy around.

Belichick does not relate well to the press. His weekly sessions with the media are exceedingly difficult both for the coach and the media. He gives true meaning to the term "curmudgeon." He is not nasty, only monosyllabic. His on-field hoodie wardrobe will not be confused with that of the late Tom Landry.

Apparently it is Belichick and members of the Patriots' research team who have filled in the blank when it comes to evidence. Science may triumph over bad faith, at least until otherwise proven wrong. In his Saturday impromptu news conference, Belichick reported to the press what it should have been able to find out itself had it not been so dazzled by the A-block story of a scandal. Belichick learned how footballs lose pounds-per-square-inch of inflation simply by being brought out of the locker room into the environment, even on a comparatively warm, but very rainy, Sunday night in Massachusetts. The scientists have stood behind the claim. Only bad faith on the part of the critics can explain any continued finger-pointing.

The NFL's investigators will ultimately determine that Mother Nature, and not the New England Patriots, is the guilty party. What a let down! After all that ink spilled and media time wasted, the Patriots are going to run free. That may be simply unacceptable to those who were certain that this was another Belichick scheme to best opponents while breaking the rules. While Belichick has stated that he has said his last about the scandal, he won't be able to avoid reporters' questions this coming week in Arizona. Even if (or when) the Patriots triumph in the Big Game, some will certainly report that they were cheaters all along. Some major media types owe Belichick, Brady, and owner Bob Kraft an apology for their groundless attacks, but that is not likely to happen. Next time, the press might be better to check with Conan Doyle before rushing to judgment.

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