Deflategate: Why Goodell imposed such strong penalties, and how it will impact players’ games

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FOXBOROUGH--A new report from ESPN is causing a stir in the football world.

In an article released on Tuesday called "Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart," ESPN draws parallels between the two scandals that plagued the Patriots, and indicated that the so-called lenient penalty on the Patriots that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell levied for Spygate in 2007 influenced his decision to impose such strong penalties for Deflategate this year.

Rich Hanley, an assistant professor of sports journalism at Quinnipiac, said that the timing of the report is too perfect.

"No. This is not a coincidence," Hanley said. "The NFL season kicks off Thursday night. ESPN, like any other media company, wants to attract eyeballs to its work, and it fits into the contours, you know, of this opening sequence into the season."

Spygate, which took place from 2000 to 2007, involved Patriots coach Bill Belichick allegedly instructing videographers to tape the hand signals coaches for other teams were using so that the Patriots would know ahead of time what plays to expect.

The penalties that Goodell imposed on team owner Robert Kraft, Belichick, and the team were called weak, and many felt that the Patriots got off easy because of Kraft's close relationship with Goodell. Belichick had to pay a $500,000 fine, while the team was fined $250,000 and the loss of a first-round draft pick.

Deflategate, which was coined because the Patriots are said to have deflated footballs during the 2015 AFC championship game to gain an edge over the Indianapolis Colts, panned out since the Patriots won 45-7. However, for that scandal, the team was fined $1 million and docked two draft picks. The team's star quarterback, Tom Brady, was also suspended for four games.

Brady's suspension was overturned by a judge last week in a blow to Goodell, though the commissioner says he'll appeal the decision.

Both the team and Goodell have come out against the report, saying there were may inaccuracies.

"I am not aware of any connection between the Spygate procedures and the procedures we went through here," Goodell said on Tuesday on "Mike & Mike," an ESPN radio show. "We obviously learn from every time we go through any kind of a process, try to improve it, get better at it, but there is no connection in my mind to the two incidents."

Meanwhile, Hanley doesn't think that Deflategate, or the new ESPN report, will have a huge impact on the team's performance in the 2015-2016 season.

"I don't think it will have any impact what-so-ever on the players. Players play. They understand what's going on off the field, but that doesn't really impact the way they play," he said, though he conceded it may impact Belichick and mess with his head, since he and his staff will have to answer questions and fend off the media from taking the players' minds off the game.

Hanley could only think of one comparable incident in major league sports: In the 1980s, Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, wanted to move the team to Los Angeles. Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL at the time, fought the move, even testifying in court to block it. Ultimately, the NFL lost in that situation as well, and the franchise moved to Los Angeles.

Hanley says that the tension between the owner, Davis, and the commissioner, Rozelle, was palpable, and similar to the current rift between Kraft and Goodell, though he said the Patriots' situation is much worse because it involves the integrity of the game, whereas the Oakland incident wasn't about the game.

To read the entire ESPN report, click here.