It was as commanding a win as Boston natives might have aimd for. Limiting the Indianapolis Colts to just one touchdown, scored in the second quarter, the New England Patriots ran out 45-7 in the AFC Championship game to earn a place in Superbowl XLIX. With a dominant victory appearing to leave the Patriots brimming with confidence, they turned their focus to the upcoming big game and their opponents, the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots, however, have since had that attention diverted by questions over their conduct in their win against the Colts comprising of allegations that their balls were underinflated to suit the rainy conditions. This has resulted in suggestions for improving officiating vigilance.
Facing the Colts in wet conditions, underinflating the balls aids grip and throwing accuracy, thereby assisting the performance of star quarterback Tom Brady as well as the team’s receivers. During half time 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots were found by league officials to be between 1 and 2 pounds per square inch (PSI) below the mandated limit of 12.5 PSI. While the balls passed initial inspections by the referees prior to kick off – this detail in particular has sparked calls to improve the manner in which these referee checks take place.
While it is important to note that the Patriots have maintained their innocence, with both head coach Bill Belichick and fan favourite Brady appearing before the press, the speculation that has arisen around the incident has highlighted ways in which pre-game checks might be modified.
Under current practices the balls each team provides are inspected two and a quarter hours before kick-off, after which they are returned to their providers until the game begins. With pundits and fans alike quick to point out that the balls might be altered during this time before kick-off, the situation has given rise to numerous suggestions about possible improvements to the process. Many have suggested that either inspections be undertaken closer to the start of the game or that the balls be sequestered by the officials once the checks have been made. Alongside these recommendations – amid claims by an inside source that evidence is found wanting because the referees lapsed in their responsibility to properly examine the balls prior to kick off – some have called for closer record to occur to guarantee that the checks have been made to a satisfactory level.
As well as these changes, the instance might also provide the opportunity for the league to take steps in restoring both its authority and reputation. Maligned in recent times for its response to incidents involving Ray Rice and other similar cases, it now has the chance to demonstrate commitment to just adjudication if the Patriots are held accountable. In any case, taking a fair-minded and sufficiently proportionate stance in their dealings with “Deflategate” may go some way to restoring a vestige of its influence and public persona.
Beyond simply sports, fans and non-fans alike often overlook the significance played by sports in a wider cultural sense. American football is the most popular sport in the USA, and as such exerts an enormous influence on its fanbase, particularly when it comes to its young fans. The significance of sporting role models on the young is paramount in cases such as “Deflategate”. The character formation of these young fans is, in some part however small, defined by the response to alleged transgressions, and therefore ensuring that the public response appropriately reflects that has a far wider effect than might be first thought.
With the potential to enact change, and a prominent role in dictating the cultural influence played by American football, “Deflategate” is a deceptively significant episode in the sports recent history.
What productive changes might be brought by the “Deflategate” saga?