As a beloved American pastime, fans from respective hometowns gather to cheer on their team in hopes for a fair game and even better, a victory. The New England Patriots were involved in such a game in January 2015 and came out of it victorious. However, along with the victory came a healthy set of rumors, rumblings that perhaps the game hadn’t been won fairly. Claims started to fly that the pigskins the Patriots used on that day were under inflated as a tactic to win the game.
The 2015 AFC championship game controversy, dubbed Deflategate, has ruffled feathers across the NFL, sports industry, and nation in general. Should the Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl? Was the punishment on the team tough enough once it was determined that, yes, the balls were not inflated properly? And importantly, what happened with the investigation?
Lead investigator on the case was Manhattan attorney Ted Wells, who ultimately determined that Pats quarterback Tom Brady was at least “generally aware” that 2 team staff members, Jim McNally and John Jastremski, had under inflated the footballs used in the game to gain an advantage over the Indianapolis Colts. Since the 243-page report was released in early May, Wells has undergone criticism for his findings.
Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee accused Wells of making his decision based on pressure from the NFL. In an angry response, Wells struck back on a phone conference with reporters, “I think it is wrong to criticize my independence just because you disagree with my findings. The conclusions in the report represent the independent opinions of me personally and my team, and those conclusions were not influenced in any way, shape or form by anyone at the league office. We made a fair and reasonable review of the evidence and we reached conclusions based on the preponderance of the evidence standard, which I was required to apply, based on the league’s rules.”
While many have opinions on whether or not the Patriots and Brady should or should not have been more harshly punished, implications for the private investigation industry are present in this particular case. Much of the backlash Wells has undergone is based on accused favor for the NFL over the Patriots. When unpopular decisions are made, blame can fly in many different forms, and in this case it is with regard to Wells’ independence as an investigator on the case.
Wells had previously worked for the NFL in leading an investigation on the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal. When appointed to the Deflategate investigation, no one in the Patriots organization gave opposition of his independence or previous experience. Implications for other investigators is that maintaining independence is especially important when the outcome of investigation findings are released, as well and solidifying that no preferential treatment will be given for any in the case.