Thursday, January 22, 2015

What Did They Know, and When Did They Know It?

“Quarterback says he ‘didn’t alter the ball’?”

So said Vera to me a short while ago, reading in a questioning tone a headline appearing on the CNN website this evening. (I’d give the link, but I’m kind of loathing the new design at CNN, never mind the autoplaying Esurance commercial. Oh, and the sensationalized, SEO-driven, tabloid-y approach to reporting news.)

Vera isn’t a huge sports fan, and so hasn’t really been following the story of the 11 deflated footballs used by the New England Patriots during the first half of their drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday’s AFC Championship game -- a story that picked up renewed vigor today after the press conferences of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

I’m not going to rehearse all of the details of the story here. If you’re like Vera and haven’t heard all about it yet, it’s easy enough to read further online. And if you’re like me and have, well, then you don’t need a summary.

I’ve been having some fun this week tweeting various comparisons between the situation -- predictably dubbed “Deflate-gate” -- and Watergate, given how both involve allegations of cheating against heavily favored entities with histories of “dirty tricks.” And with today’s twin denials of knowledge by Belichick and Brady and the relentless nature of the continued questioning and swirling suspicion, the idea of some kind of “cover up” is now in play as well to further the analogy.

“I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation until Monday morning,” said Belichick. “I have no knowledge of anything... I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing,” added Brady. Statements that the chorus of doubters responding afterwards -- some especially indignant -- don’t seem ready to accept.

There’s a lot of emphasis on the “integrity of the game” being threatened by the episode (again, not unlike the integrity of the electoral process back in ’72). Even if New England trounced Indy 45-7 (like Nixon trounced McGovern 520 to 17), thereby making any ball-altering shenanigans seem less meaningful from a results-oriented perspective, it surely isn’t fair for one side to run its offense with balls inflated more favorably (i.e., well under the league-determined level) than the other, right?

To draw a poker analogy, it sounds a little like someone playing the first half of a heads-up cash game session knowing there were only three aces in the deck. Sure, both are playing with the same deck, but one has more accurate knowledge about that deck than the other. Depending on how the other 51 cards were dealt, it could matter greatly or not at all.

With today’s pressers the story has moved from the sports pages onto CNN and other news sites, with non-football fans like Vera now asking football fans like me what the deal is with the Super Bowl-bound QB denying cheating allegations. Brady didn’t say “I’m not a crook” today, although he did have to respond to the question (posed somewhat within a hypothetical) “Is Tom Brady a cheater?” with the statement “I feel like I’ve always played within the rules.”

I’m no great fan of the Pats or Belichick or Brady -- my ambivalence towards N.E. tracing back to their dramatic last-second Super Bowl win over my Panthers over a decade ago -- which means I’m kinda sorta enjoying all the nonsense on a certain anarchy-loving level only available to those of us on the sidelines without a specific rooting interest.

But I also think that unlike Watergate, there’s not much to this silly sideshow at all. My answer to Vera’s question, then, wasn’t really an answer.

“It’s all anyone’s talking about right now,” I said to her, shaking my head. And then we talked about something else.

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