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Say it ain't so, Tom

July 20, 2016
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Say it ain't so, Tom (AP file photo/Stephan Savola)

The Tom Brady saga appears to finally be over, ending not with a bang but with a whimper.

The future Hall of Famer opted to take his four game vacation and move on with his life, perhaps understanding that as time went on, this case became less about him and more about the ongoing power struggle between the commissioner's office and the NFL Players Association.

While fans have been vocal in their opinions on Deflategate, I've been fascinated by the way this whole circus has been covered by the media. In many ways, this situation has provided a case study on modern media operations - and it hasn't been a particularly glorious one.

Of course, the leader in national coverage has been the ESPN behemoth. The four-letter network has had a difficult couple of years, losing some of their biggest names, seeing subscription rates drop dramatically and losing a ridiculous amount of revenue. As they've dealt with those issues, their business priorities have often manifested themselves in their story coverage, where it's clear that they value controversy and allegiance to their cash cows cash cows like the National Football League.

While true sports journalism like 'Outside The Lines' has been pushed to the fringe of the network, the argumentative talking heads and so-called 'experts' continually weigh in with consistently incorrect information and assumptions, becoming, in many cases, de facto spokesmen for the league office. Patriot loyalists saw this as a flat-out attack on their team but it wasn't as much 'they hate us cause they ain't us' as it was the network's continuing desire to 'embrace debate,' even if it rarely elevates the conversation.

For much of the Boston media, this provided a chance to show objectivity and professionalism; unfortunately, it too often led to provincialism and misplaced anger. Many Boston radio hosts saw this as manna from the sports gods, firing up an always-defensive listener base by assuring them that everyone was out to get their team (and by extension them) out of jealousy toward their long run of success. While there was certainly a massive level of incompetence in the handling of football inflation by the league office, most of the coverage tended to focus on personalities and perceived biases more than data, because nothing is easier for an aggrieved sports fan to understand than a black and white world of good guys and bad guys.

Even many local media outlets got into the act, continuing the bizarre trend of emulating Boston media from two hundred miles away. The Patriots became 'we' and the case was watered down to 'us against them' and there was little room for shades of gray, as discussions usually had all the nuance of a Facebook meme. Journalism took a back seat to fandom and there was little effort to find the truth or dig deep because questioning the not-so-local team would be a treasonous notion.

(Perhaps best of all was hearing some of these sports 'bros' try and explain the legal maneuvering. I have to confess, I'll miss hearing the various pronunciations of terms like 'en banc' and only wish we could have reached the point of discussing a writ of certiorari.)

Now, with Brady's decision, there are even some in sports media who view his acquiescence as a betrayal. What I'm not sure of is whether their desire to see him keep fighting is based more on their unabashed loyalty to 'their' team or the comfort of having the raw meat of Deflategate to discuss during the summer doldrums of the sports calendar.

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