Unless you live in a cave with lousy wi-fi, you are probably aware that on Monday, the NFL handed down a punishment over the "Deflategate" cheating scandal that was on the severe side of expectations (though not nearly what some would have liked to see): a four game suspension for quarterback Tom Brady, loss of 2016 first round and 2017 fourth round draft picks for the Patriots, as well as a $1 million fine for the team.
Reaction was swift and varied among the news media, but it wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that anyone got around to asking the White House to weigh in. Several reporters asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest to comment on the punishment, on Brady's status as a role model, and on Brady's absence from the White House ceremony congratulating his team several weeks ago.
Earnest claimed not to have spoken to President Obama about the issue, but gave his own endorsement of Brady as a role model, and teased a possible presidential response:
"People around the world, particularly children, particularly boys, do look up to Tom Brady, he is somebody with a reputation for professionalism, somebody who has enjoyed tremendous success on the football field, and has carried himself, off the field, in a way that has earned the respect of a lot of people. And I think that as he confronts this particular situation, and he determines what the next steps will be for him, that he'll be mindful of the way he serves as a role model to so many, not just Americans kids, as you point out, but to kids around the world.
"...There may be an opportunity for you to ask him (President Obama)."
That last little tease probably means that President Obama is ready for the question, and may get it thrown at him during a photo op some time this week, as often happens with pop issues that bubble up between President Obama's infrequent press conferences. If Earnest's remarks are any indication, though, then I wonder if that reputation for professionalism and respect-earning off the field carriage includes any of this:
"[T]here is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge. Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information, and by providing testimony that the report concludes was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.
“Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football."
That's part of NFL VP Troy Vincent's letter to Tom Brady, explaining the punishment. It will be interesting to see how President Obama responds when he does get this question, because Vincent's rebuke, and the NFL's penalty, are a lot more difficult to laugh off than they were a few weeks ago when Obama joked about the scandal.
As for Brady and the Patriots, their punishment is at once insufficient and more than enough. Patriots apologists have thrown every rationale they can think of against the wall, including the notion that they didn't need the advantage, and didn't even gain one. This should be irrelevant, but for anyone who still thinks that Brady and his team should not suffer an irrevocable taint from this scandal ought to consider what kind of advantage it is, in a game of inches, to never, ever fumble. It would have been just for the Patriots stripped of their Super Bowl title, but if this punishment stands, the NFL has effectively rendered all of their titles meaningless to all but the most blindly loyal Patriots camp followers.
There's still a way for Brady to redeem himself, and that is to provide the league with the documents they requested when he files his appeal, and for those documents to show that he didn't know what was going on. On that count, you'll be holding your breath a lot longer than a Patriots game ball.