Retired baseball commissioner Fay Vincent has had his own experiences with tough disciplinary calls, but on his two most famous cases—those of Cincinnati Red Pete Rose and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner—wrongdoing was never in doubt. “It was just a question of the punishment,” he says.
He worries the case, such as it is so far, being made against Superbowl Champion Tom Brady makes a far messier proposition for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Though he respects lead investigator Ted Wells, Vincent is unhappy with the “vapid” formulation the investigation of “Deflategate” has settled on in attempting to define Brady’s role in the apparent tampering with footballs used in the run-up to last year’s Superbowl: "More probable than not that he was at least generally aware" of efforts by equipment managers to reduce air pressure in footballs he would use on the field after they had been inspected by league officials.
“'More probable than not,'” Vincent grumbles, “'more probable than not'. That’s a really soft statement."
He says, “That does not lead to a comfortable resolution for the commissioner, for football, for the public.”
The retired commissioner says if he could translate that phrase into numbers he would call it 51 to 49 on the likelihood of Brady’s participation in the ball tampering. But to be able to issue a strong decision that will satisfy the fans and the needs of the National Football League what NFL Commission Goodel needs are numbers closer to 80/20, Vincent thinks.
“If you attempt to punish Brady [a hugely popular and talented quarterback] on that formulation, it’s going to lead to a messy resolution,” he says.
How much all this means to the public is another open question. Many, according to Vincent, think the “scandal” is a tempest in a locker room already. Deflate the ball a few pounds, Brady still has to put his superhuman, superbowl skills to work throwing strikes at fast-moving targets. Fans show a tolerance for some small degree of cheating in professional sports, he suggests. “Look at how many of them are clamoring for Pete Rose to be reinstated,” he says, “a convicted felon” who lied for years to fans about his baseball gambling.
Vincent allows the issue may have become a “Say it ain’t so, Tom” moment for football, meaning it would be refreshing for Brady to come clean and take his lumps if he indeed has anything to come clean about. But Vincent is not going to hold his breath. Brady, he says, is probably being strongly advised that his best course of action, professionally speaking, is to just keep his mouth shut as the investigation winds down, noting it took Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong years to admit their wrongdoing. Vincent expects that at some point the Patriots, Brady and Commissioner Goodell will have to have a sit-down and come up with some judgment that will deflate Deflategate just enough that they can all get back to the business at hand.
This the NFL after all, and in the end no one “wants to kill the golden goose.”