As you can imagine, the last two-plus weeks have been pretty intense, filled with torrents of mean tweets and general hatred toward your Humble Correspondent (that would be me). New England fans are among the most vocal and spirited I've ever encountered, and I'm relatively sure I've heard from roughly 75 percent of them.
Before my mea culpa, let me get this out of the way right now:
I am not in the least bit sorry about breaking DeflateGate, even if it's cluttered my Twitter timeline and included vicious shots at me and my family. I got it from a great source. I confirmed it with another great source. I knew with 100 percent certainty that it was right, that there was an investigation into the possibility the Patriots had deflated their footballs, although, until the NFL officially confirmed the investigation the following Monday morning, I wasn't able to relax. That's part of my job, breaking the occasional story.
New England fans can take issue with the Colts for having called out the Patriots on this issue; that's their prerogative. They can scream sour grapes, sore losers, whatever they choose, but the facts were immutable: I wrote there was an investigation. There WAS, and IS, an investigation. It's my job to get it right, and I got it right.
End of story.
Here, though, is where New England fans are right to be angry with me, where some media are correct in criticizing me.
I tweeted that if ESPN's Chris Mortensen report was right – if 11 of 12 footballs were two pounds-per-square inch deflated below the number mandated by the NFL – then heads should roll, specifically the one belonging to Bill Belichick.
No problem there. That's my opinion. I'm entitled to it, just as you're entitled to rip me.
In ensuing tweets and a column or two, I wrote that if owner Robert Kraft had an ounce of integrity, Belichick would be bounced immediately, draft picks should be forfeited and the Pats should be fined. What I failed to do was make it abundantly clear, “IF the Patriots are found guilty of having tampered with the footballs…'' I failed to understand, at least at the time, that each tweet, taken by itself, is an independent organism, not a part of a continuing narrative.
I thought it was implied, quite strongly, that penalties should only be levied if the Patriots were found guilty of toying with the integrity of the game, but I failed to establish that clearly in those tweets and in my columns. Thus, it appeared I was calling for Belichick's head and other penalties before any investigation was completed. Clearly (or maybe not so clearly), I would never call for Aaron Hernandez to get a life sentence before he got his day in court, and I did not mean to suggest that Belichick and the Patriots should be penalized before an investigation was complete. But that's the way it came out, and for that, I apologize.
I am a professional communicator, and as a professional communicator, I failed miserably there. I'm not one who blames the reader for a misunderstanding; it's incumbent upon me, as a writer or broadcaster, to use my words wisely, whether in a column or a tweet. I have to wear that one. I own that one. .
So there you go.
As far as the investigation, which still continues, let's just say it's a hodgepodge of conflicting reports. Mortensen reported 11 of 12 balls were significantly deflated. That has neither been confirmed nor denied officially. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported that one ball was significantly deflated and the others were near the proper air pressure or slightly below. That has neither been confirmed nor denied officially. This, ultimately, is what the Wells investigation has to determine, what it's still attempting to discover as it tries to get to the bottom of this matter. Were most of the balls deflated? One? None? And if several were deflated, how did they get that way? Who was, or who were, the responsible parties?
Everything else has been weirdness and general nonsense.
My favorite is the recent talk that the Colts were part of some conspiracy to deflate the ball, or balls, in an effort to embarrass the Patriots. ESPN's Adam Schefter recently went on Boston's WEEI and said there are people around the league who believe the Colts concocted this whole thing. I don't doubt that he's telling the truth – I'm sure there are conspiracy theorists out there – but I'm not buying it that it was a massive set-up, not for a second.
Let's put it this way: If the Colts are found guilty of having tampered with the footballs in an effort to undermine the Pats, I'll be vicious in my criticism of the Colts and call for the heads of the offending parties – whether that's Jim Irsay, Ryan Grigson or Chuck Pagano…whoever. That would be even more egregious than anything the Patriots might have done.
I'll also be shocked beyond words.
What all of this shows me that even after 32 years in this business, you can always learn, always grow. I should have chosen my words more precisely, should not have assumed anything, especially while in the vortex of a major story.
That was my error.
We move on. And wait….