BOSTON (CBS) -- ESPN released a report late Tuesday night which introduced new information in the DeflateGate "controversy" that is now on its fifth week of ongoing speculation. Though the 1,100-word report did reveal at least two previously unknown items, it still falls into the same problematic formula of just about everything that's been reported since Jan. 17.
1. The information is incomplete.
2. The information contradicts a previous report.
3. The report prematurely places guilt on a person who may or may not have done anything wrong.
4. The report leaves more questions than answers, which as a result will lead to the country speculating on a number of topics about which they don't have a complete picture.
Let's tackle those issues one at a time here.
First, the incomplete information.
This is what Kelly Naqi's Outside The Lines report alleges:
"A locker room attendant for the New England Patriots tried to introduce an unapproved special teams football into last month's AFC Championship Game. ... In the first half of the AFC Championship Game, the sources said, [Jim] McNally tried to give the unapproved football to an alternate official who was in charge of the special-teams footballs. Those footballs are known as 'kicking balls' or 'K balls.' ... The alternate official, Greg Yette, became suspicious when he noticed that the football McNally handed him did not have the proper markings on it. ... Once McNally tried to introduce the unapproved football into the game, the source said, Yette notified the NFL's vice president of game operations, Mike Kensil, who was at the game in the press box."
So that's the bulk of the report. A Patriots employee who does not typically handle footballs had one in his possession, and he handed it to Greg Yette, who was the official in charge of handling the K balls. That ball never made it into the game, but the behavior was apparently suspicious enough to inspire Mike Kensil to trek from the press box down to the officials' locker room so that he could oversee ... a PSI test on the balls used on offense, not on the special teams balls.
What's going on here?
Is it possible that this McNally fella (more on him shortly) found a ball on the ground, perhaps one used by kickers to practice kicking into nets on the sideline, and decided to give it to a man in charge? Of course it is. Is it possible that in what would be without a doubt the worst ever cheating attempt, McNally tried to sneak one special teams ball into the mix of 12 other K balls? I suppose it is, but what's the end game there? Getting one out of 13 kicking balls into the cycle would be just as likely to the hurt the Patriots as it would help them, wouldn't it?
Again, like about a half-dozen DeflateGate reports before it, this one relies on anonymous leaks who aren't able and/or willing to tell the entire story. The result is that a mere snippet and potential footnote gets presented as a breaking news story.
Now, onto point No. 2: This story contradicts an earlier report.
This one's particularly interesting because in this case, the new ESPN report contradicts the initial report by ESPN's Chris Mortensen. You'll remember that in the late night of Jan. 20, Mortensen reported that 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots were measured at 2 PSI under the low threshold allowed by league (12.5 PSI). This was the story that turned Bob Kravitz's report into a full-on national crisis, with national news programs leading with stories about deflated footballs.
Now, nearly a month later, ESPN is reporting that "Kensil personally checked the PSI (pounds per square inch) levels of all 12 footballs the Patriots had for use on offense and found that 11 of those 12 were underinflated by 'one to two pounds.'"
The difference may seem minor, but it is not. If you can take anything from the weeks of scientific theories and physics theses we were all bombarded with, it's that at the very least you have to afford for the possibility for a change in air pressure based on a number of different factors. And while it may be a stretch to say that air temperature and moisture and whatever else could lower the pressure by a full two PSI, it is believable that it could drop the pressure by half of that.
So now, we've got ESPN reporting the balls were two PSI under, we've got ESPN reporting the balls were between one and two PSI under, and we've still got NFL Network saying one football was two PSI under the limit while "many of them were just a few ticks under the minimum."
Which is it? That's lots of sources saying some pretty different things, but what's notable in this instance is that ESPN is saying Chris Mortensen was wrong. Considering it was Mortensen's report which really kicked DeflateGate hysteria into overdrive, that's no insignificant detail.
Onto No. 3: The report prematurely places guilt on a person who may or may not have done anything wrong.
This is not a big deal if you don't care about a man named Jim McNally, but when you consider that he potentially did not do anything against any rules and that he has likely cooperated fully with Ted Wells' investigation, you have to wonder what's going through his mind as an ESPN reporter walked up his driveway to bombard him with questions.
Is it possible that McNally was the key lynchpin in a nefarious plot to get a non-approved football into the cycle of 12 special teams balls for some unknown reason? Yes. Sure. But isn't it more likely that he ... wasn't doing that? If he really wanted to make that football get into the mix of 13 kicking balls, wouldn't he try to put some markings on it to make it look official? And if he really wanted to give the Patriots an advantage, wouldn't he try to get preferable footballs into the mix of balls the Patriots used on offense?
Once more, what is going on here?
Mostly, though, the question is this: Why is Jim McNally's hometown in this story? Do we need to know this man's address?
It's at worst irresponsible, at best just kind of rude, but it's definitely unwarranted, considering the ESPN report included great investigative lines like this one: "It is not known if McNally is the same locker room attendant who reportedly ducked into a bathroom with a bag of footballs for 90 seconds before taking them out to the field before the start of the AFC Championship Game."
I'm no enterprise reporter like Kelly Naqi, who has four ESPN bylines to her name over the past 43 months*, but when I'm writing an investigate report, I don't include the words "it is not known if." I'd stick with what is known, personally. But, hey, might as well call out the officials' locker room attendant by his full name, list the town where he lives and hurl heavy suspicion his way before we really know if he did anything wrong. Why not?
*I understand that Naqi contributes her reporting to OTL and therefore does not generate many bylines. I am merely noting that it is odd for this to pop up as her first byline since July 2013. Perhaps it's the Mortensen contradiction, and ESPN doesn't want a big name out there going against its longtime top NFL reporter?
It's just a shame that McNally can't publicly comment. I'd love to know if Mark Brunell would start crying again upon hearing the ball boy's explanation. (Hang in there, Mark!)
Which leads us to No. 4: More questions than answers, and therefore more speculation.
This issue is as much a problem with the NFL as it is with the report itself. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to speak publicly about the DeflateGate situation, citing the ongoing investigation. Whenever asked about DeflateGate, and even when asked specifically about Dean Blandino's on-the-record comments which came during a very public press conference, "When the investigation is complete, you'll have the information," has been his go-to response.
Goodell likes to portray his office as one of high standards and great integrity, a truly laughable effort in the wake of its complete and utter moral failure in dealing with Ray Rice. It's even more laughable considering just how many leaks have sprung during this interminable period of "investigation" into deflated footballs.
An NFL spokesman was contacted for this newest ESPN story, and the response was, "We're not commenting on the details of the ongoing investigation."
They're not commenting ... but they are. Naqi cited four sources on her story. Four. These people had intimate knowledge of Jim McNally and his handing of a football over to an NFL official. Where might you think they came from? It's hard to believe the Patriots would sell out their part-time employee so that ESPN could release another juicy DeflateGate story. And it's hard to believe anyone would even know McNally's name, unless they were involved in some way in the investigative process.
Nevertheless, the response to this story will likely be as over-the-top as it's been throughout the entire ordeal. There will be outrage from Patriots fans who feel their team is being put through the ringer for no real reason, and there will be laughter and celebration from the millions of football fans who despise Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and anyone else associated with the franchise.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are still waiting for some actual, complete information. How much longer do we need to wait? The NFL is not commenting.
UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter issued a report later in the day which essentially made Naqi's report meaningless. Read more details here.
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