New England probably deflated footballs deliberately, report says

“Deflategate” report implicates three people, including Tom Brady

By KEN BELSON

New York Times News Service

The results of a nearly four-month investigation stated that “it is more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel intentionally deflated footballs to gain an advantage against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game in January, and that Tom Brady, the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player, was probably aware of it.

No penalties have been announced by the NFL — yet.

The investigation, which was conducted by Ted Wells and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, concluded that it was probable that Patriots personnel were “involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.”

The report, which was released Wednesday, said that Jim McNally, a locker-room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, were involved in releasing air from the footballs. It said that besides those two and Brady, no other Patriots personnel, including coach Bill Belichick, were aware of any wrongdoing. The report separately determined that the Patriots had not deliberately tried to introduce an improper football for kicking and cleared kicker Stephen Gostkowski of any wrongdoing.

Investigators looked at a wide range of evidence, including footballs, emails, text messages, security footage and weather data. McNally and Jastremski received sneakers, jerseys, autographs and other items from Brady in the months before the AFC championship game, the report said.

Brady “declined to make available any documents or electronic information (including text messages and emails),” according to the report.

“The evidence does not allow us to reach conclusions as to when McNally and Jastremski began their efforts to release air from Patriots game balls on game day (although McNally referred to himself as “the deflator” before the start of the 2014-15 season), exactly how long those efforts have been ongoing, how frequently they occurred, how the idea originated or the full scope of communications related to those efforts,” the report stated.

It continued: “We also note that there is less direct evidence linking Brady to tampering activities than either McNally or Jastremski. We nevertheless believe, based on the totality of the evidence, that it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski.”

The Patriots won the AFC championship game, 45-7, but in the first half, a member of the Colts gave the officials a ball that appeared to be underinflated. The officials checked all 12 of the Patriots game balls and determined that all but one were below the mandated amount of air pressure, leading to a series of tense news conferences by Brady, Belichick and the team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft.

“To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC championship game, would be a gross understatement,” Kraft said in a statement.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, said in a statement: “Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type.”

Wells, one of the country’s top defense lawyers, has experience working in sports. He was also hired by the NFL in November 2013 to investigate the scandal that engulfed the Miami Dolphins. He led a special investigation into allegations of sexual harassment on Syracuse University’s basketball team and was hired by the NBA players union to look into allegations of inappropriate financial dealings at the union. His report, also made public, led to the ouster of the union’s chief, Billy Hunter.

It is not the first time that it has been concluded that the Patriots, who won the Super Bowl, 28-24, against the Seattle Seahawks in February, broke rules to gain an advantage. In 2007, the league fined the Patriots and Belichick and ordered the team to forfeit a first-round draft pick after a Patriots staff member was discovered videotaping signals by New York Jets coaches during a game at the Meadowlands.

Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team was ordered to pay $250,000. Belichick accepted full responsibility for the incident, which Goodell called “a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.”