The Brady-fly Non-Effect

It’s bad enough that it is now assumed that MLB, in the midst of its pennant races, must cede its place at the top of the sports reports to an NFL that is still a month away from any meaningful action. No one in his right mind should pay attention to NFL training camp “news.”

It’s even worse when these premature football reports focus on a matter as trivial as the aftermath of the Deflation Crisis. A rational assessment of the Tom Brady suspension should lead to the conclusion that, in the long run, the conflict’s resolution will ultimately have little effect on the NFL’s destiny–or anything else, for that matter.

But the worst affront comes from the media talking heads who keep insisting–even as they stress the triviality of the matter–that the situation must be resolved Now Now NOW, because it is so important that the NFL put this thing behind it. That idea begs a question that no one, as yet, seems to have bothered asking:

Why?

The DFR: FootballI mean, why is it so crucial for the NFL to get past this kerfuffle about whether Brady should be suspended four games, or two games, or not at all?

If you’ve watched PTI lately, you’d think that this internecine conflict was the worst tragedy since the Bosnian War. Just yesterday I had to sit and watch Jason Whitlock baste my TV screen with his BBQ-flavored tears over how that awful Roger Goodell has done this terrible, terrible thing by punishing Brady over something that everyone–everyone, that is, who cashes a check signed by ESPN–agrees merits no punishment at all.


What’s really going on is that the PTI guys, and others in the sports media, are talking out of both sides of their mouths.


Of course anyone within the Connecticut Clown College orbit would weep bitter tears over any suspension meted out against their house team’s quarterback. “The Worldwide Leader…in Spurts” has long since abandoned any pretense of objectivity. Whether it’s Whitlock, or Bob Ryan, or Dan LeBatard, or the vigorously vacationing Tony Kornheiser or Michael Wilbon, all of the PTI commentators have hewed to the same tack: Brady didn’t do anything wrong, and even if he did it was so trivial that it amounts to jaywalking, and regardless, all this back and forth is so unseemly that a poor, weak, delicate institution such as the NFL can only be irreparably harmed if all this dreadful disagreeableness goes on even five minutes longer. And that’s just the vibe from the normally reasonable PTI; I dare not imagine all the fainting from the vapors going on during recent episodes of SportsCenter and NFL Live.

You’d think, given all this mewling, that Goodell’s disciplinary action against Brady forms the zero point of some pro sports “butterfly effect”–in this case, the “Brady-fly effect”–where the batting of one Golden Boy’s pretty, tear-soaked eyelashes sets in motion a chain of events that shuts down the league, destroys the Eastern Seaboard, and ultimately makes the universe inhospitable to human life, leaving us all screwed, screwed, scroooooooooooooooowwwddddd!

People…relax. Whether Brady is guilty or innocent, whether Goodell overstepped his authority or not, however all the negotiations and legal wranglings play out, ultimately few fans will care about the fallout. How little will all of this matter? Consider:

  • Roger Goodell. Fans generally know who their favorite sport’s commissioner is, and in some instances–(cough) Bettman (cough, cough) Old Ratface (cough)–they take particular pleasure in expressing their ire towards that individual. But that animosity usually springs from team relocations or strikes/lockouts; player suspensions tend not to matter to anyone outside team offices and practice facilities. Goodell may have botched the Deflation Crisis investigation–Yahoo!’s Dan Wetzel makes a strong case that he did–after flubbing other issues (Ray Rice in particular), but only those very high in the NFL’s power structure will truly care if Goodell is shown the door or survives to hammer future $44 million dollar paychecks. And whatever happens to Goodell, his personal future will not create or destroy the league’s future. (Concussions, on the other hand…)
  • Tom Brady. With four Super Bowl rings–no one, not even Goodell, has suggested vacating last season’s championship over Deflation–Brady’s legacy is secure. If Brady had been caught dead to rights deflating footballs, had been forced to issue a plaintive mea culpa, he’d still be worshiped well into the future by the football faithful. But Brady has had vigorous defenders almost from the moment this whole thing started. Now that he is being widely held up as a modern gridiron martyr, his legacy is unlikely to take any lasting damage. As for his upcoming season, if he misses all four games per the suspension, his stats might suffer a bit. Then again, he might have missed a few games–and suffered statistically–via injury anyway. But as for his team’s prospects…
  • New England Patriots. Part of the outrage over Brady’s suspension almost certainly arises due to the perception that it will severely damage New England’s chances to defend their title. But that assumes that Team Floating Demon Head will flail in their first four games without Brady–and we should all know by now what happens when we assume. Back in 2008, Brady was hurt in the first game and missed the entire rest of the season. And with Matt Cassel filling in for Brady, what did Bill Belichick and his Patriots do? Did they turtle up and go 2-14 like they were the Buccaneers or something? Try 11-5. That record tied Miami for first in the AFC East, though the Dolphins won the division on tiebreakers and the Pats missed the playoffs. But that same record would have easily won the division last season. And remember, Belichick accomplished that with Cassel as his quarterback; Cassel only won as many as ten games in one other season (with Kansas City in 2010). I strongly suspect that the Patriots, even with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, will not be going 0-4 if Brady has to sit out his entire suspension.

So please, tell me: where exactly is the tragedy? Is there grave injustice going on here? Perhaps–but I doubt that those in the sports media really care so much about that.

Are fans really up in arms about all of this? The ones in New England, sure, but around the country and the world, I suspect most football fans are only mildly concerned with whether Brady miss all four games or none–and I’m sure even remember it after the season’s fifth game.

Are sport journalists upset that they’re being forced to cover a story that is so far beneath them, when they wish they could be reporting on two-a-days and that new defensive scheme that’s about to sweep the league? Well, actually, they’re not being forced to cover this story; they could give the Deflation story as little oxygen as possible and stick to the defensive schemes and which rookies look good in which camps. But then, if they did that, they might have to acknowledge that nobody gives a damn about new defensive schemes, or good-looking rookies, or who needs a new running back or defensive end, while it’s still August.

What’s really going on here is that the PTI guys, and others in the sports media, are talking out of both sides of their mouths. They know that, ultimately, the Brady-Goodell spat is a trivial matter; they know that its long-term effects will be miniscule, if not non-existent; they know that ultimately, there’s no real story there.

But they also know that the NFL now dominates sports in America, and talking about it is the easiest road to attracting eyeballs and ears. And they know that if they just reported on rookies or installing new defensive schemes or other training camp boilerplate, people might start to realize that none of that is all that interesting. So they continue to get all melodramatic over Brady’s suspension, in order to gin up interest in a sport that should still be in its off-season. The entire Deflation tempest is a product of today’s sports journalism creating a media mountain out of an administrative molehill.

The bottom line: watch and enjoy your favorite games, but–remember, yet again–that you need to take the coverage of those games with a grain of salt…especially when that grain of salt comes out of crocodile tears.

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