January 26th, 2015

Reed: 'Deflategate' has been overinflated


Billy Reed

Executive Editor

Reed: 'Deflategate' has been overinflated
The lead-up to the Super Bowl has reached silly proportions because of the recent frenzy over underinflated footballs in the AFC title game / photo from patriots.com

Usually the week before the Super Bowl is an exercise in nonsense. There is little or no real news, so the media, bless its heart, does its best to manufacture some kind of controversy. Every statement by every coach and player, no matter how inane, is analyzed to a fare-thee-well. Little things are blown so far out of proportion that a bit of deflation — you knew that was coming, right? — is welcome.

The needle on the Super Silly-o-Meter usually begins low and grows as the week moves along until, by Sunday, everybody is so sick of speculation, analysis, opinion and just plain baloney that kickoff brings blessed relief. But this year it’s different. This week, as the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks gather in Arizona, the needle on the Super Silly-O-Meter already is at maximum and threatening to blow a gasket.

As surely everybody within earshot of a TV knows, the Patriots’ 45-7 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game was, ah, tainted by the discovery, before halftime, that 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots were slightly under-inflated. The theory is that skullduggery was afoot. Since underinflated balls apparently are easier to grip, especially in cold weather, the Patriots were accused of trying to seek an illegal competitive advantage.

The usual suspects were rounded up and thrown to the media, which had worked itself into frenzy over what was labeled “Deflategate.” Under intense grilling, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady pleaded “not guilty.” But that didn’t satisfy the jury, which labeled them as unconvincing, at best, and outright liars, at worst.

Hollywood could not come up with a more perfect villain than Bilicheck. When he pulls back the hood on the sweatshirts he fancies, he reveals a glowering visage that would make mothers want to hide the children. Besides that, he has a rap sheet, although the court has yet to rule if his past cheating — he got caught spying on opponents a few years ago — is relevant to these proceedings.

It’s tougher to put the black hat on Brady. One of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, he still has the face and demeanor of a choir boy. But you wonder if he’s not like the teacher’s pet you remember from grade school. The guy who would instigate some nefarious scheme, let others take the hit and then, under questioning, say, “Who, me?”

For more than a week, the issue has been debated ad nauseum in every form of the modern media. The 24-hour cable news channels all jumped in, even though it was hardly a slow news week. Proving again that America is a nation with far too much time on its hands, the news pundits devoted as much time to the alleged deflated footballs as they did to the President’s State of the Union address. At times it was difficult to tell whether you were watching ESPN or CNN.

Ordinarily, this grossly inflated controversy would qualify for Sports Illustrated’s weekly feature, “Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us.” Last week, however, the magazine only had to look within its own walls to find the winner of that dubious honor. Sports Illustrated, home to the world’s greatest sports photography for five decades, laid off its last six staff photographers.

How can a magazine with “Illustrated” in its name not have any photographers? Well, actually, readers will not notice any appreciable difference. The magazine will simply buy the best photographs available from free-lancers. The only difference is that they will no longer have to pay medical and other benefits to photographers who work exclusively for them.

The way I see it, Sports Illustrated’s move was infinitely more important than deflated footballs because it’s the latest step in the decline of a pillar of superior journalism — one, I must confess, for which I worked for 29 years. SI did not reach its pinnacle because of salesmen, bean counters and even the Swimsuit Issue. It got there because it employed the best editors, writers and photographers available. Now you have to wonder: With the photographers gone, can the editors and writers be far behind? Would anybody notice if SI just outsourced everything?

Both the furor over “Deflategate” and the purge at SI are symbolic of how the media have changed. The rise of social media has blurred all the lines, making it sometimes difficult to distinguish the trivial from the important. Old-fashioned reporting has been replaced by rumor-mongering. Everybody who owns a smart phone is a photographer, editor and columnist. Standards and ethics have been trounced as soundly as, well, New England crushed Indianapolis.

Please understand that I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to standing up for fair play and good sportsmanship. I have spent much of my career fighting those who seek unfair competitive advantage. I despise college coaches who condone recruiting violations and academic fraud. I will never forgive Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, etc., for what they did to baseball. The foundation of sport is built on the level playing field.

Having said that, however, I would like to stick a needle into all the inflated media egos. The only thing more outlandish than deflated footballs is the hot air the “scandal” created. Talk about much ado about nothing. Heck, nobody has yet to explain why each team has 12 footballs at its disposal. Shouldn’t one ball be enough for both teams?  Has anybody ever heard of a football getting worn out during a game?

As I understand it, the balls were properly inflated at halftime. In the second half, the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0. The Patriots did not need deflated footballs to win this game. It could have been played with beach balls, hockey pucks or badminton birdies — and the Patriots still were going to win. By a lot.

In a court of law, the judge would throw out the case before it could get to a jury due to lack of evidence. We now see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the role of Inspector Clouseau, investigating a “crime” that has no clues, much less a smoking gun. All it did was sent the Super Silly-O-Meter soaring to new heights.

Now for the really bad news. It will continue to be the main topic of discussion this week, mainly because the media doesn’t have much else to get worked up about. It’s always asking for trouble when you put that many media people in that small a space with nothing worthwhile to report. In a vacuum, imaginations can run amok. Where is Johnny Football when you really need him?



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