The conflict of interests has often made ESPN choose sides in the ongoing battle between the NFL and one of its teams, the New England Patriots, but its latest magazine article covering Spygate, Deflategate and everything in between, the biggest and most influential sports media outlet doesn’t pick a side.
“Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart” doesn’t actually teach us something new. It reviews the details of the Spygate scandal from 2007 and maybe dives deeper than before, adding little pieces from stories on what happened before (The Super Bowl walkthrough of the Rams, the 2002 playoff game against the Steelers), the one Senator who tried uncovering what the hell the NFL were doing by destroying the evidence and the connection with the hounding of Tom Brady in DeflateGate.
ESPN has been criticized for being in bed with the NFL, causing it to support to commissioner and the league in the DeflateGate scandal while Tom Brady eventually won his appeal in an outside court, resulting in his four-game suspension being lifted. Everyone knows Brady and the Patriots cheated, but the court ruling was about the league not following its own protocol and rules; it didn’t determine whether Brady did it or not.
But that’s besides the point. ESPN were critical of Goodell during the days leading up to the 2014 season and during it, when the whole Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals exploded in the league’s face. Goodell has been caught lying before and will continue to do so (he did it while talking on ESPN’s radio show after the appeal regarding the suspension of the “deflators”), and it’s not like he’s immune from ESPN’s criticism.
But during the whole Brady appeal, it did seem like the network picked a side. According to the OTL story, the owners in the league picked a side as well, most of them hoping that the Patriots and their quarterback will be sufficiently punished. The team did get punished; Brady walked away unscathed, at least officially, although this didn’t do anyone any good. Not the league, not the franchise, not Brady himself.
In the post which will also be part of their ESPN The Magazine’s Sept. 28 Transactions Issue, Goodell doesn’t come out looking too well, and neither do the Patriots. Maybe it’s just the network showing everyone they’re not afraid of sticking it to the league they’re paying so much money to for Monday Night Football and spending about 50% of their airtime on their marquee channel discussing, while not letting go of their whole “Patriots are evil cheaters” routine. Playing both angels at the same time is always smarter.