Even if you’re not a fan of the New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, you have to appreciate the fact that he’s finally put an end to the absurd, seemingly interminable sideshow, known affectionately as “Deflategate.”

For non-football fans and those unfamiliar, Deflategate refers to a controversy in which Tom Brady, the New England Patriots, and several of the franchise’s employees, allegedly conspired to use underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship game in 2015. (Gasp!) The Patriots trounced the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the game in question, and the truth is that the inflation level of the football likely had little to do with the outcome.

Nevertheless, the point was that the Patriots allegedly did something that is expressly prohibited by the rules of professional pigskin, and appeared to have done so sneakily and perhaps even repeatedly. (For shame!) In case you don’t have your NFL rulebook handy, the long and short of it is that tampering with, and using, underinflated footballs, is a big no-no. Why? Because it apparently can give the quarterback (and, by extension, the team) who use them an unfair advantage, allowing players to grip the balls more easily. 

The Patriots allegedly broke the rules of profressional pigskin sneakily and perhaps even repeatedly.

[tweetthis]The Patriots allegedly broke the rules of profressional pigskin sneakily and perhaps even repeatedly[/tweetthis]

To prevent tampering with game balls, the NFL has a bunch of rules and requirements concerning, well, basically everything about the ball, including its level of inflation (12.5 to 13.5 lbs). Here’s a link to the specifics for anyone interested.

The officials had apparently approved the game balls before the start of the game; however, during the first half, a Colts equipment manager allegedly measured the pressure of the game ball and found it to be too light. The game continued nonetheless. At halftime, the officials gauged the pressure and re-inflated the balls to the proper specification, and the rest is history. Well, sort of.

After the AFC Championship game, the National Football League announced that it would be launching an investigation into the Patriots’ alleged nefarious behavior, even though not a single coach, player or official had voiced concerns during the game. Or so we thought. In fact, the plot then began to thicken, as it was later revealed that the NFL was aware that the Patriots may have been using underinflated footballs during the season, and that members of the Colt’s organization had notified the league of their suspicions prior to the game.

Swinging into action, the league then hired well-known Manhattan attorney Ted Wells to investigate the issue. Football fans (or perhaps just Patriots fans) waited with bated breath for four whole months before Wells finally released his report. Ultimately, the NFL suspended Tom Brady for four games due to his alleged involvement, at which point all of New England let out a collective sob. 

The NFL was aware that the Patriots may have been using underinflated footballs during the season.

[tweetthis]The NFL was aware that the Patriots may have been using underinflated footballs during the season[/tweetthis]

Oh, but that was hardly the end of it. The saga dragged on for nearly 18 months, and turned into an absurd courtroom drama and a media-fueled showdown between the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, and a powerful executive and the sport’s most recognizable (and perhaps most beloved) quarterback.

The ludicrous scandal continued, morphing into a power struggle and media sideshow of epic proportions. The case was kicked to federal court after Goodell upheld Brady’s suspension, only to have the suspension overturned in District Court. The league then appealed the appeal, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then overturned the overturn, and reinstated Brady’s suspension in April.

The next step (and last hope) for Brady was to yet again appeal the decision, and do so to the Supreme Court. Yes, until recently, many assumed there was a very good chance that the Deflategate case would end up in front of the highest court in the land. It’s not difficult to imagine the copious eye rolling coming from the judges.

Not only that, but we learned last month that the NFLPA (the NFL Players Association), the labor organization representing NFL players, shelled out $3.5 million in legal fees to support its battle in court. Yes, that’s a battle emanating from a scandal over the inflation of footballs. Only in America! Furthermore, according to ESPN, to the layperson or average football fan, while the legal expenses incurred by the NFLPA may seem exorbitant, “it could be small in comparison to the NFL’s expenditures…as attorney Ted Wells estimated the price of his investigation … to be $2.5 million to $3 million… That is, of course, only a fraction of what the NFL has spent in its pursuit of Brady.” 

The ludicrous scandal morphed into a power struggle and media sideshow of epic proportions.

[tweetthis]The ludicrous scandal morphed into a power struggle and media sideshow of epic proportions[/tweetthis]

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

Thankfully, Tom Brady recently announced on Facebook that he will “no longer proceed with the legal process.” While one might be inclined to breathe a sigh of relief over the eight Supreme Court justices being spared from acting as the final arbiter in such an important matter of federal constitutional law, it appears we may not be so lucky. In response to Brady’s announcement, the NFLPA issued its own statement, in which it conspicuously left the door open for an appeal to the Supreme Court, saying “we will continue to review all of our options and we reserve our rights to petition for cert to the Supreme Court.”

So, Deflategate, a grudge match between the NFL and one of its winningest quarterbacks (and most successful franchises), may continue, with the highest court in the land acting as referee.

And, if that’s not enough, at least the New York Times reminds us of the real meaning and true consequence of this case:

“Years from now, only legal historians will remember that, at its core, Brady’s case was a serious matter about the powers and independence of an arbitrator, an issue that has broad ramifications for employees everywhere.”

The real question is: Does anyone know if Justice Roberts is a Patriots fan?

About the author

Rip Empson

Rip Empson

Before a stint at a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, Rip spent four years as a staff writer at TechCrunch, researching and reporting on technology news and the exciting array of startups, entrepreneurs and technologies that are reshaping our world. He also loves The Boston Red Sox, drinks too much coffee, and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.

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