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NFL Report: 'More Probable Than Not' That Patriots Workers Tampered With Footballs

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was named MVP of the Patriots' Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks. A new NFL report suggests he was aware of cheating by team personnel who tampered with game balls.

Two members of the New England Patriots' staff probably violated the NFL's playing rules by tampering with game balls, according to a lengthy review of the scandal that's come to be known as "Deflategate."

The report names two Patriots workers who had access to footballs before a pivotal game; it also states, "it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities."

Those details came out today in a 243-page report on allegations that the New England Patriots used underinflated footballs in a key playoff game. There's no word yet on what sort of punishment the NFL might levy.

The long-awaited investigative report presented by attorney Ted Wells states, "it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel ... were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules."

The revelation, and details such as text messages in which Patriots employees John Jastremski and Jim McNally discuss both deflating footballs and receiving gifts, has given new heft to a story that many had dismissed as a brief obsession in the NFL's run-up to the Super Bowl. In January, the allegations against the Patriots led many to analyze the potential advantages of letting air out of a football.

Wells, a criminal defense attorney, had been asked to look into the incident after charges sprang up that the Patriots had used improperly deflated footballs during the Jan. 18 AFC Championship Game. The host Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in that game, sending them to the Super Bowl, where the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24.

Today, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said:

"As with other recent matters involving violations of competitive rules, [NFL Executive Vice President for Football Operations] Troy Vincent and his team 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 future incidents of this type. At the same time, we will continue our efforts vigorously to protect the integrity of the game and promote fair play at all times."

The full report ranges from technical analysis and discussions of the Ideal Gas Law to transcriptions of text messages between Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Jastremski, a longtime equipment assistant for the team, along with messages between Jastremski and McNally, the Patriots' officials locker room attendant.

The report states:

"We believe that McNally and Jastremski were aware that the inflation level of the Patriots game balls following pre-game inspection by the game officials would be approximately 12.5 psi and planned for McNally to deflate the balls below that level following the pre-game inspection using a needle provided by Jastremski. Based on the evidence, we also have concluded that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."

In January, both Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick said they had nothing to do with the way the team's game balls are inflated. The report concludes that neither Belichick nor others in the Patriots organization knew of the plan.

The Wells Report draws on the work of an investigative team and the findings of Exponent, a scientific and engineering firm. It has been posted online by CBS TV Boston and others; its authors say their findings are based on many factors, including:

  • Text messages between Jastremski and McNally in which they discuss inflation levels, Brady's preferences, and a needle — along with statements such as, "Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks .... Or it's a rugby Sunday." In them, McNally calls himself "the deflator."
  • A referee's "inability to locate the game balls at the start of the game (for the first time in nineteen years) and the breach in standard pre-game procedure when McNally removed the game balls from the Officials Locker Room without the permission of the referee or other game officials."
  • McNally taking "game balls into the bathroom during his walk from the Officials Locker Room to the field, locking the door and remaining inside the bathroom with the game balls for approximately one minute and forty seconds" — enough time, the report says, to deflate footballs with a needle.
  • The presentation to McNally of "two footballs autographed by Brady and Brady's autograph on a game-worn jersey," with both Brady and Jastremski present in the equipment room.
  • The timing and frequency of phone conversations and texts between both "Jastremski and McNally, as well as Jastremski and Brady immediately after suspicions of ball tampering were raised by NFL Security and in media reports."

A sampling of the texts mentioned in the report has been posted to Twitter (warning: contains profanity).

Responding to the report Wednesday, team Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft says, "Throughout the process of this nearly four-month investigation, we have cooperated and patiently awaited its outcome. To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game, would be a gross understatement."

Kraft also states, "I was offended by the comments made in the Wells Report in reference to not making an individual available for a follow-up interview. What the report fails to mention is that he had already been interviewed four times and we felt the fifth request for access was excessive for a part-time game day employee who has a full-time job with another employer."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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