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Documentary takes air out of NFL's Deflategate case against Tom Brady, who continues to prove it wasn't about the balls

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·6 min read
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The documentary “Four Games in Fall” annihilates the NFL for the Deflategate scandal, showing it is highly unlikely, and certainly never proven, that the footballs Tom Brady used in the 2015 AFC championship game were even deflated beyond what Ideal Gas Law would dictate.

Rather than back down when confronted with the realities of science, the league used biased investigators, manipulated evidence and an effective, if pathetic, misinformation campaign to railroad Brady, who wound up suspended for four games.

The film is nearly two hours of scientists, lawyers and professors systematically debunking a story that is more about abuse of power than what did, or more accurately, didn’t occur.

“The NFL didn’t just build a murder case when there was no body, there wasn’t even a missing person,” director Julie Marron said Thursday.

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015 file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a ball tossed to him during warmups before the NFL football AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass. A federal appeals court has ruled, Monday, April 25, 2016,  that New England Patriots Tom Brady must serve a four-game "Deflategate" suspension imposed by the NFL, overturning a lower judge and siding with the league in a battle with the players union.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
The science of footballs dominated the NFL in 2015 after Tom Brady and the Patriots blew out the Colts in the AFC title game. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Late in the documentary, Marron introduces the ancient concept of “Trial by Ordeal” which might somehow be relevant when Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC championship game. It once meant subjecting the accused to some “ordeal” such as getting dipped in boiling water or being burned at the stake. It supposedly separated the innocent from the guilty. Applied to modern times, it’s more of an “I’ll prove I didn’t cheat when I roll this rock up a hill by once again, with everyone watching, rolling it up the hill.”

“Tom Brady never really got his day in court to prove his innocence,” Marron said, noting that when Deflategate actually reached a federal courtroom it was about labor law, not whether the then New England Patriots quarterback, or anyone else, actually deflated any footballs to gain a competitive advantage.

“He handled things in the typical Tom Brady way, by letting it roll off his back, renewing his focus and going out there and winning to prove himself,” Marron said. “That’s the trial by ordeal.”

Brady’s latest trial is Sunday when he chases another Super Bowl appearance.

It should be enough to get critics who once called for his banishment from the sport to maybe read the “Wells Report” with a critical eye or perhaps question why the NFL kept leaking stories that ranged from not true (11 of 12 footballs being significantly under-inflated) to irrelevant (Brady destroyed his cell phone).

They could at least watch the film (available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube and GooglePlay).

It’s roughly six years since NFL officials who must have slept through high school science class accused Brady of cheating. Despite all eyes focused on him and the psi of his footballs since that fateful AFC title game, he has gone 70-22 in the regular season and 12-3 in the playoffs. Since claiming the Lombardi Trophy the game after the allegations surfaced, Brady has reached three more Super Bowls, winning two of them. Sunday he will start his fifth conference championship game since Deflategate, this time for an entirely different organization.

Brady was once branded a cheater who worked the system to greatness. The NFL, malicious even by its standards, compared the situation to the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, where eight players were accused of throwing the World Series.

Yet he’s still great, even at 43 years old.

Deflategate is often called the dumbest scandal in sports history. And when viewed from one direction, it is. Yet “Four Games in Fall” argues it’s actually about shady science, propaganda and what it takes to keep doubling down on an initial lie.

That’s how Marron got interested. The filmmaker rarely pays attention to football, but the blanket coverage of Deflategate touched on a topic she is passionate about – science for hire.

It’s the ability of corporations to pay research firms to deliver whatever answer it wants to any question it wants. That usually involves more serious subjects, such as minimizing the links between cancer and pesticides or asbestos. The NFL hired one of the firms she considers dubious: Exponent.

“Science for hire is such an important issue, it impacts all of us in very meaningful ways,” Marron said. “Deflategate was getting exponentially more media attention, however, than any other case I’d ever seen. This was a way to share how it operates.

“These firms perform scientific gymnastics and contortions in a dishonest way but it makes people who don’t understand to think, well, ‘it could have been that way.’ ”

That’s what happened with Deflategate. The NFL didn’t realize that footballs naturally deflate due to temperature and moisture. Yet armed with suspicions that the Patriots cheated, the league conducted a ridiculous “experiment” to prove it – multiple gauges, different length needles, no recording of time or temperature, no baseline data and even haphazardly recording what it found.

Even using tainted numbers, the air pressure didn’t show much of anything out of the normal range.

From there the NFL leaked damning, and later obviously false stories to league-friendly reporters. The league then waited over 100 days for Brady’s reputation to get dragged before releasing its actual findings – which real scientists immediately pounced on and torched.

When the science fell apart, the league changed its tactics and leaked that Brady had “destroyed” a cell phone, even though the NFL said it previously told him it didn’t need it. He looked like he had something to hide though and this was far easier for fans to grasp that than pounds per square inch charts.

The NFL would go on to get caught mischaracterizing testimony, providing the Patriots with bogus information to keep them on their heels and the next season even giving up on a supposed study of pressure levels that scientists guaranteed would prove Brady’s innocence … if actually conducted.

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By 2016, when footballs in a Giants-Steelers game were recorded as below the league’s supposed standards, the NFL brushed it off as a natural occurrence. Of course.

When the case reached federal court, arguments were limited to whether the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement allowed commissioner Roger Goodell to rule whatever he wanted, even if he was flat wrong. (It did.)

Marron, however, keeps arguing that Brady isn’t just innocent, but a victim of a campaign that was so dumb and dishonest it framed him for a “crime” that never even occurred. Once a narrative is set though, it’s almost impossible to rewrite.

So, if nothing else, she asks, if Brady was deflating footballs in an effort to cheat to win but now that everyone is paying attention he can’t deflate the footballs … yet he keeps on winning …

“Trial by ordeal was the only option for him.”

Would another Super Bowl finally do it?

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