What to do about Tom Brady? The consensus among the sports class seems to be that something must be done. You even hear people saying that he should be suspended for an entire season. Kieth Olbermann of ESPN did a rant recommending just such a punishment. (One day for the crime and 364 for the stupid way he dealt with it.) Of course, the ESPN culture has a weakness for suspensions. The sports network likes “edgy” and considers it part of the brand. Olbermann, himself, being exhibit #1. ESPN is also, paradoxically, quick to suspend its stars when it feels like the edge has been honed a little too fine and is actually drawing blood. You aren’t a real ESPN veteran until you can show the scars of your suspension. Olbermann, of course, has been suspended. Bill Simmons (who is leaving the network) has been suspended. Even Tony Kornheiser has been suspended.
Who suspends Tony Kornheiser?
The most recent high profile suspension was of a young and beautiful reporter whose crime was being caught on security cameras when in the process of giving the what for to a cashier at one of those outfits that makes a business out of towing people’s automobiles and then holding them for ransom. The fees are extortionate and the pretext for towing often specious. Some of these outfits are exceedingly quick with the hook and most people who go in to get their cars back are not happy. The ESPN reporter made her displeasure known by doing a little snobbery fandango on the clerk’s head. A variation of, Do you know who I am, you miserable little nobody? I work in television and you work here. I went to college and you couldn’t make it through high school …
And so forth.
The towing company released the video. It went viral. ESPN suspended the reporter. Not for something she said on the air. Not for driving drunk or doing drugs. (With them, you get a suspension with a stretch in rehab thrown in.) She was suspended for being a jerk on her own time. Lot’s of people would have jumped ugly with the clerk, though none of them would have been quite so well qualified to make a diva rant.
Anyway, the ESPN go-to move is suspension and most of the known portions of the sports universe seem in agreement with Olbermann on the Brady matter. He needs to be suspended.
There is disagreement, however, on just how long the suspension should run. You see everything from two games to an entire season. So far, no Jacobins calling for lifetime banishment as was the sentence handed down on Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the Chicago Black Socks who famously threw the World Series. Now that’s a suspension.
Brady, of course, didn’t do what he did (or, to be lawyerly about it, what a report commissioned by the NFL implies he did) in order to lose football games. He did it to improve his already excellent chances of doing what he routinely does. Namely … win.
He did not use banned substances. He did not consort with gamblers and make wagers on his own team. He did not, like one of his former teammates, shoot someone for the crime of “dissing” him. He conspired with an equipment manager to let a little air out of the footballs he would be throwing during a game. When they were inflated below the pressure specified in the rules, the balls were easier to grip and to throw.
Brady says he didn’t know there was gambling going on at Rick’s. His head coach, Bill Belichick, says he was equally in the dark. Belichick is a total control sort of guy and was caught cheating, and punished for it, earlier in his career with the Patriots. Would he still, having been nailed once, play fast and loose with a rule so small as the one that specifies the psi to which the football is to be inflated?
Well, players say that a ball that is slightly deflated is easier to grip and, thus, helps prevent fumbles. And, as Dan Shaughnessy, a Boston sportswriter notes: “The rule allowing each team to prepare its own game balls went into effect in 2006. Since 2007, the Patriots have fumbled far less than the NFL average (once every 187 plays, compared with once every 105 for the rest of the league, according to Slate). They have also been the greatest bad-weather team in the history of football.