New England Patriots star Tom Brady was probably aware of a plot to deflate balls used in a key playoff game, an NFL probe ruled, dealing a blow to the image of one of the most prominent athletes in American sport.
A National Football League investigation into the “Deflategate” affair found Wednesday that it was “more probable than not” that Patriots employees had conspired to tamper with the pressure of balls in the team’s AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts on January 18. The Patriots won 45-7.
The probe found that Brady — who went on to lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks — was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”
It was not immediately clear what sanctions the NFL would take following the bombshell findings in the 243-page report, which named kit men John Jastremski and Jim McNally as the suspected architects of the plot.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was exonerated in the report.
Brady, 37, a four-time Super Bowl winner who is married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, had previously denied any involvement in ball tampering.
“I didn’t alter the balls in any way,” Brady said soon after the allegations aired. “I would never break the rules.”
Deflating the pressure of match balls is believed to improve grip and seen as favoring a passing offense like the Patriots.
However the NFL probe noted that Brady turned in an improved performance in the second half of the Colts game after the deflated balls were re-inflated to the correct pressure, completing 12 of 14 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
– Text message clues –
The probe, authored by investigator Ted Wells, cited exchanges of text messages between Jastremski and McNally as evidence of a conspiracy to alter ball pressure.
The report said there had been a “material increase” in phone and text communications between Brady and Jastremski after the allegations first surfaced on January 19.
Brady declined to hand over details of his own emails, text messages and phone records, according to the report.
“Based on the evidence … it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls,” the report said.
“Brady is a constant reference point in the discussions between McNally and Jastremski about inflation, deflation, needles and items to be received by McNally.”
The report said it had also studied the possibility that the loss in air pressure of the Patriots balls could have been attributed to the weather conditions during the game.
– ‘Human intervention’ –
Experiments on balls aimed at replicating the conditions on the night had been unable to achieve similar losses of air pressure.
“This absence of a credible scientific explanation for the Patriots halftime (pressure) measurements tends to support a finding that human intervention may account for the additional loss of pressure,” the report concluded.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said officials were studying “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.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft decried the investigation’s findings — but said the team would accept any disciplinary action rather than engage in a “futile” challenge.
“We will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league,” he said in a statement.
Brady did not immediately react on Wednesday but was vehemently defended by his father.
“I don’t have any doubt about my son’s integrity â€” not one bit,” Tom Brady Sr. told USA Today. “This was Framegate right from the beginning.”
But the early verdict from US media was scathing.
“Tom Brady cheated his way to a Super Bowl,” read one headline in USA Today.
The Washington Post said that while Brady would be regarded as one of the greatest players in NFL history, “he is also a liar.”
It is the second scandal to rock the Patriots in the past decade.
In 2007, Belichick and the Patriots were fined and ordered to forfeit a first round draft pick after being caught videotaping play signals by New York Jets staff in violation of league rules.