The long-awaited report on the "Deflate-gate" scandal, which has cast a shadow over the New England Patriots' recent Super Bowl-winning season, was finally released on Wednesday, implicating team personnel and star quarterback Tom Brady in a violation of league rules.
The independent report, which was commissioned by the NFL, concludes that two members of the Patriots' staff probably played a direct role in intentionally taking air out of game balls, and that Brady, at the very least, was likely "generally aware" of the inappropriate activities taking place. The report absolves Patriots coach Bill Belichick, his fellow team coaches and all members of Patriots ownership of any wrongdoing.
The investigation, led by attorney Ted Wells, was launched to determine whether the team had deliberately deflated their footballs in the first half of their AFC Championship Game in January against the Indianapolis Colts, which would be a violation of league regulations. Deflated footballs are generally believed to be easier to grip and catch.
The report's findings undercut earlier denials Brady made in an infamous press conference in January, during which he declared no knowledge of or influence on the air pressure of the footballs in the game. According to the Wells report, Brady willingly participated in an interview with investigators but failed to provide documentation or electronic information that was requested.
Jim McNally, a locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, appear to be the prime culprits as far as the NFL is concerned. But some profanity-laced text message exchanges between the two, included in the report, suggest they were acting on the wishes of Brady, who they cite as frequently complaining about the air pressure in his footballs. "Tom sucks ... I'm going make that next ball a f**kin balloon," quips McNally is one conversation.
At another point, McNally jokingly refers to himself as "the deflator" and says he's not "going to ESPN ... yet." The two Patriots staff members also allude in their text message conversations to receiving autographed memorabilia and sneakers as perks for the actions. "Maybe u will have some nice size 11s in ur locker," texts Jastremski. "Tom must really be working your balls hard this week," responds McNally.
The report claims that McNally was captured on videotape taking a bag of footballs into a stadium bathroom, locking the door and remaining there for nearly two minutes before taking them to the field for the AFC championship game in question. Jastremski is suspected of acting as a something akin to a middle man for Brady and McNally, and with providing the "needle" used to inflate the footballs.
Wells report concludes: "Based on our interviews and assessment of McNally and Jastremski, we also do not believe that they would personally and unilaterally engage in such conduct in the absence of Brady‟s awareness and consent."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has been critical of the investigation from the get-go, was swift in his condemnation of the findings. "When I addressed the media at the Super Bowl on January 26 -- over 14 weeks ago -- I stated that I unconditionally believed that the New England Patriots had done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of the NFL rules and that I was disappointed in the way the league handled the initial investigation. That sentiment has not changed," Kraft said in a statement Tuesday.
"I was convinced that Ted Wells' investigation would find the same factual evidence supported by both scientific formula and independent research as we did and would ultimately exonerate the Patriots. Based on the explanations I have heard and the studies that have been done, I don't know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definitive evidence," he added.
The Patriots have argued that weather and other atmospheric conditions may have been responsible for the difference in the air pressure in their team's footballs. The issue was corrected by halftime of the AFC Championship Game, which the Patriots won in a 45-7 blowout.
"While I respect the independent process of the investigation, the time, effort and resources expended to reach this conclusion are incomprehensible to me," Kraft said.
After thanking Wells for his "thorough and independent investigation," he said that Troy Vincent, the current executive vice president of football operations in the NFL, 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 in future incidents of this type."
Goodell, who is looking to turn the page following an NFL season plagued by bad press, added: "We will continue our efforts vigorously to protect the integrity of the game and promote fair play at all times."