Category Archives: deflated footballs

The Boston wranglers: Brady and Olympic bidders

Around Boston, all that whistling past the graveyard on two major sports fronts suddenly has been stifled by realized fears. One day after the city’s ham-handed bidders saw their pitch to stage the 2024 Olympics collapse spectacularly, NFL matinee idol Tom Brady had his claims of innocence in manipulating footballs again dismissed—and more accusatorily—by league commissioner Roger Goodell.


Predictably, the Brady news created the larger fuss, even though the gridiron fortunes of his New England Patriots—ordered to play four games without their superstar quarterback—have none of the economic consequences for the Boston populace that an Olympic project would. (Well, maybe they do, given the presence of bookies and plotting fantasy leaguers.)

Long ago, the drawn-out Brady investigation veered toward farce, with its conspiracy theories, Ideal Gas Law formulas, a Patriot assistant inappropriately taking footballs to the bathroom and The Destroyed Cellphone. Not that the NFL shouldn’t insist on fair play, or that Brady doesn’t deserve a day in the figurative stocks and hefty fine (based on the “more probable than not” conclusion about Brady’s under-inflation involvement).

Rather, the caper hardly rose to the level of a federal case. And certainly shouldn’t get more NFL attention than football’s effect on traumatic brain injury. Or the NFL handling of players’ criminal arrests.

So, meanwhile, Mr. Holmes, what about Boston’s Olympic scheme (scam?): In January, the U.S. Olympic Committee—shockingly, to Olympic insiders—chose Boston over Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as its representative in the campaign for 2024. (The likely contenders are Rome, Paris, Hamburg, possibly Budapest and maybe Toronto.) Given the International Olympic Committee’s rejection of New York for 2012 and Chicago for 2016, Boston—an American city with even less public support for the Games than those two and an equal lack of existing venues—hardly made sense.

Immediately, the already flat Boston possibilities began to lose more air. (Without Tom Brady being a person of interest.) There were grumbles about the organizers’ lack of transparency while their blueprint continued to expand, both geographically and financially.

Costs ballooned to $8.6 billion and, just a week ago, a release of Boston-2024 documents reportedly revealed a predicted budget shortfall of $471 million. Taxpayers were reasonably concerned, if not downright freaked out. Andrew Zimbalist, the Smith College economist who has studied sports finances, noted in a Brookings Institution interview that the chief executive of Boston’s private bid committee, John Fish, is owner of a Boston-area construction company that made its pitch to the USOC without the approval or sanction of the city council.

Fish “applied in the name of Boston,” Zimbalist said. “By doing so, he was encumbering Boston with a substantial financial committment.” And angling for some serious construction work. As Zimbalist had written in a 2012 piece for The Atlantic magazine, there are “Three Reasons Why Hosting the Olympics Is a Loser’s Game:” The Games’ bidding process is “hijacked by private interests….creates massive over-building…[and demonstrates] little evidence that it meaningfully increases tourism.”

Full disclosure here: I consider myself an Olympic patriot. I have covered the Games 11 times, and believe in the value of the United Nations In Sneakers. The Olympics brings together people of all backgrounds and nationalities, peacefully celebrating and crying and doing brave things on the athletic fields; sometimes cheating or making dumb decisions but, through it all, lending some uplifting optimism about human nature even as it is reflecting real life.

The Olympics are worldly, a bit overdramatic, giddy, ephemeral. Absolutely worth carrying on. But they also have become trapped in a cycle of one-upmanship, spending far too much money for a 17-day festival and leaving behind white elephant stadiums and other facilities. (Proof: Four of the six cities that originally showed interest in bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, after staring into the abyss of possible financial ruin, have voluntarily dropped out, leaving only the Kazakhstan city of Almaty and—illogically—the non-winter city of Beijing.)

The story of a Boston Olympics in 2024 was not going to end well. And the best news about its withdrawal is that the USOC likely will put forward, in its place, Los Angeles which—31 years ago—established a gold standard for Olympic efficiency, marketing and fiscal sanity.

Newsday's 1984 Olympic staff

Newsday’s 1984 Olympic staff

In 1984, after the Olympics literally was bloodied by the 1972 Munich terrorist siege of the Israeli athletes’ quarters and bludgeoned by a 1976 Montreal financial disaster and the U.S.-led boycott of Moscow in 1980, Los Angeles came to the rescue. Official sponsorships (an Olympic first) and the use of pre-existing stadiums provided such an enormous cost-cutting benefit that L.A. produced a $223 million surplus that continues to fund sports programs in the city.

The irony is that L.A.’s overall success and unanticipated economic prosperity released the beasts of gigantism and profligate spending—a prime example being Atlanta in 1996, when the Georgia Games’ budget went from Los Angeles’ $800,000 to $1.7 billion. (And when Atlanta’s organizing chief, Billy Payne, left behind a statue of himself in the Olympic Centennial Park.)

Atlanta's Billy Payne

Atlanta’s Billy Payne

So, again, the Olympics appear in need of a fiscal savior. Why not L.A.? At least there is no NFL skullduggery going on there.


Tom Brady’s guilt? Probable enough (if you aren’t a Patriots fan).


On good legal advice, it can be stated here that that rascally Tom Brady is in a bind. Because, beyond Brady getting beat up by (non-New England Patriots) fans on the jury in the court of public opinion, the term “more probable than not”—used to cite Brady’s culpability in the case of the squishy NFL footballs—is a valid one in establishing proof.

Furthermore, as Northeastern University law professor Roger Abrams explained in a telephone tutorial, “When the NFL wrote its own rules, unilateral rules, they were not negotiated with the union, because [the league] wanted it as easy as possible to sustain discipline.

“The NFL has its own housekeeping rules,” Abrams said. “If the question is whether the NFL has the power [to suspend Brady for four games], the answer is, ‘Sure.’”

Brady can appeal, and his agent has said he will. And the players’ union can appeal on Brady’s behalf. But either appeal, Abrams said, “does not go to an independent, neutral arbitrator. It’s to a person designated by the commissioner. The NFL has the edge, absolutely.”

It should be noted that Abrams, who has written extensively on law and sports and served as arbitrator in hundreds of legal disputes, was “floored” by the Brady suspension. “The NFL,” he said, “seems unable to get it correct,” citing how the league’s original suspensions in the matters of Ray Rice’s domestic violence, New Orleans Saints bounty practices and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges—each of those involving physical harm as opposed to fudging competitive rules by decreasing the air pressure in footballs—all were overturned.

But this is what happens when cloak-and-dagger activity is unearthed in sports, a universe founded on the ideal of the Level Playing Field and so closely scrutinized by passionate, partisan devotees. However stark, raving mad Patriots fans are about having Brady convicted of behavior they insist is neither conclusive nor outside the bounds of common practice around the league, those anti-Patriots loyalists have been just as nuts over Brady’s perceived arrogance and apparent treachery.

This opinion divide was evident in a sampling of New York Times’ reader reactions published Sunday. To both sides of the argument, then, the NFL penalties announced on Monday, including a hefty fine and loss or draft choices for the Patriots, were predictably gasoline on the flames.

The better part of valor in this fight could be humor, as when Columbia University physics and mathematics professor Brian Greene wrote in the Times—soon after the scandal surfaced—that the league’s attempt to obtain expert scientific analysis of pigskin inflation occasioned “one of the rare times when the jocks turn to the nerds….

“So fellow fans of molecules and momentum—climb out of that gym locker you were stuffed into—this is our moment.”

Greene, alluding to “gas physics” and a formula considering volume, pressure and air temperature, slyly concluded that NFL lawyers may “just want to increase their billable hours.” And, taking the meteorological elements into account, “It looks to me that mother nature at least provides a reasonable doubt” about any skullduggery. “So, based on what I know now, your honor, I cannot convict,” Greene wrote.

My friend Charlie Pierce, whose wickedly snarky style is to be envied in these situations, similarly advised that we all calm down. In a piece for the Web site Grantland just prior to the suspension order, Pierce wrote,

“1. I think [Brady] knew damned well what was going on with those footballs. I think his categorical denial at the January press conference was what my old journalism school dean would have called a “barefaced non-fact.” I think he should be suspended two games. And then, good god, people, we should all get on with our lives.

“2. I think anyone who advocates a more serious punishment than that, and anyone who equates Brady with Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds, is a dangerous child who should be kept away from the public for the same reason we keep toddlers out of the cutlery….”

Meanwhile, back to the “more probable than not” guilt assigned to Brady, the face of the Patriots and—to some extent—the face of the NFL: “What it means in real life,” Abrams said, “is, ‘It could be, maybe it’s not, I’m not too sure.’ It’s 51-percent sure. Which means it’s 49 percent not sure.

“But ‘more probable than not’ is used in civil actions, not criminal actions, for damages in car accidents or breach-of-contract or actions involving real property. Does the evidence [against Brady] meet that standard? Ted Wells [the lawyer who authored the report on the deflation investigation] is a wonderful attorney. Known him for 30 years. I value his work.

“On the other hand, people are picking that report apart.”

In the end, Abrams said, this was “not a legal decision but a policy decision: What’s best for the business?” So what the NFL had to decide was whether it wanted to open the 2015 season on national television—New England vs. Pittsburgh—without the sport’s biggest star? Or wanted to risk, by some relatively meek penalty, reinforcing the notion that rules are not quite the same for superstars?

Either way, what has been aired out, with those footballs, is some of the game’s dirty laundry.