One of the great things about Division III athletics is that sportsmanship is usually valued as greatly as winning.  No one would draw the same conclusion about professional sports, however, and the release of conclusions about DeflateGate unfortunately confirms this.  Worse, two of the team leaders at the center of the misconduct are products of the Little Three.

The long-awaited Wells Report, investigating allegations that the New England Patriots cheated by deliberately deflating footballs used by their offense, has been released, and it doesn’t make team president Jonathan Kraft ’86 (a current Williams trustee) or Bill Belichick (Wesleyan ’75) look like effective leaders.

Kraft has been trying to step out of the shadow if his father, team owner Robert Kraft, as described in a somewhat-unflattering, mid-DeflateGate article in the Boston Globe:

He may lack some of his father’s charisma and taste for celebrity. His temper may run hotter, as those he has verbally accosted over perceived slights have discovered. And he has yet to embrace the virtues of forgiveness: He remains highly contemptuous of the politicians and pundits he believes have wronged him in the past 20 years.

But on the day of Jonathan Kraft’s succession, the dynasty will pass to a sharp-edged chief executive whose focus rarely wavers from his father’s passions: family, philanthropy, and making it big in business, whether it’s recycling cardboard or chasing Super Bowl titles.

Kraft declined to speak publicly for this story… [a]ssociates indicated he is wary of being portrayed as a prince-in-waiting.

Two Sundays ago, millions of television viewers could have misjudged Kraft as that silver-spooned prince when CBS zoomed in on the owner’s box during the AFC Championship game.

The camera caught Secretary of State John F. Kerry leaning forward from his second-row seat to share a few words with Robert Kraft. The younger Kraft was sitting next to his father, wolfing popcorn and displaying no interest in the conversation.

Kraft is the team president; it’s unlikely he was involved in decisions about whether to break the rules by altering game equipment.  But the Patriots repeatedly and publicly insisted that they would cooperate fully with the NFL’s investigation, as part of a media campaign that featured Robert Kraft demanding an apology from the league.  The Wells Report makes clear that the Patriots didn’t deliver:

[T]he Patriots . . . refused to make Jim McNally [the equipment handler at the center of the alteration of the footballs] available for a follow-up interview requested by our investigative team on . . . important topics, despite our offer to meet at any time and location that would be convenient for McNally.  Counsel for the Patriots apparently refused even to inform McNally of our request.  We believe the failure by the Patriots and its counsel to produce McNally for the requested follow-up interview violated the club’s obligations to cooperate with the investigation under the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of League Rules and was inconsistent with public statements made by the Patriots pledging full cooperation . . .

Similarly, although Tom Brady appeared for a requested interview . . . he declined to make available any documents or . . . text messages and emails[] that we requested. . . . Our inability to review contemporaneous communications and other documents in Brady’s possession . . . limited the discovery of relevant evidence.

The Wells Report lays the blame for the Patriots conduct at the feet of Tom Brady and the team’s equipment personnel.  Its scope was limited to investigating the AFC Championship Game, in which the Patriots thoroughly dismantled the Indianapolis Colts, and would likely have done so without assistance from deflated balls.  Thus, it didn’t consider whether the Patriots also deflated balls the previous week, when they rallied from behind and narrowly escaped the Baltimore Ravens.

Understandably, Ravens fans are furious, and there are reasons to believe that the Patriots’ actions reflect a broader culture of cheating — for example, the opposing team alerted the NFL and its officials to the possibility of tampering with the footballs before the game, suggesting they (or other teams) had noticed a pattern of conduct in the past by New England.  And of course, the Patriots were disciplined a few years ago for breaking the rules by videotaping opposing teams’ signals.

As members of the Eph community, we like to root for the success of other Ephs, whether in politics, sports, science, or the arts. But we expect Ephs to meet our standards when they do. Kraft’s leadership so far has failed to meet those standards.

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