Tom Brady decided to end his appeal of his four-game suspension before having to petition to the Supreme Court. The NFLPA still retains the right to ask the highest court in the land to review Roger Goodell’s power, but for all intents and purposes the story about Deflategate ended on July 15, 2016.
There are already retrospectives, finished timelines and stories reviewing what amounted to the change in temperature lowering air pressure in a football — or a team-wide plan to lower the air pressure ever so slightly if you are the type of person into conspiracy theories. So Tom Brady didn’t win Deflategate, the NFLPA didn’t win, even the NFL and Roger Goodell didn’t really win — although his power over discipline remained intact. The only winner was the media which used an issue with one of the NFL’s biggest stars to boost ratings and get clicks. That is the business behind the issue.
It’s tough to get people’s attention today. Even though live sports content is the highest rated programming on television, other aspects of the industry are dropping in viewership because of a number of reasons — media fragmentation, changing consumption, social media etc. — and that means stories have to be bigger and resonate emotionally. The media did that perfectly. From misreported facts by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, to on-air debate about Brady as a cheater, to online articles from multiple columnists, the media made this bigger than it needed to be so the industry and its personalities would benefit.
If this happens with Blake Bortles and Jacksonville Jaguars, certain columnists don’t wax poetic about a fallen hero — what will we tell the children? — while Indianapolis sports writers and reporters turned Twitter personalities don’t grow their brands. Even places like Barstool Sports and Boston media personalities benefited from being on the other side of the issue. In some cases media members compared Brady to people like Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds flip flopped their opinions as national feelings changed from Brady is a cheater to the NFL and Roger Goodell are corrupt. Each time it was the media who won out on the business end. A story about .5 PSI created by the media and pushed and promoted by the media was used to sell some advertisements and prove to sponsors and partners that these companies and media personalities were connecting with the American public.
Now the people who created the story, and continually pushed the story to the top of the news cycle will say they are so happy that Deflategate is over. They will feign fatigue. They will pretend they are happy there will be no more reports. They will ask why we even focused on air pressure in a football. Media members will say that Goodell is throwing Brady in jail for a parking ticket.
It was the media that built this story into something where the NFL and Goodell had to do something. The fourth estate didn’t report facts. They didn’t care about waiting on a story, confirming leaks, or criticizing Brady and then flip-flopping to criticize the NFL because that was hot at the moment. They cared about ratings. They cared about firing up the public and creating emotional debates about Brady’s legacy as a cheater all while making sure they got the clicks they needed to hit their metrics.
The good news is that Deflategate is over now so other issues such as the NFL and concussions and domestic violence in sports can be addressed. Pretending that will happen and we won’t have to deal with Johnny Manziel in Cabo or the next great overblown sports conspiracy is fruitless. Real issues tend to not be as exciting as stories the media pushes for their own purpose. And we know they’ll do whats best for their business.