TIME deflategate

Patriots Coach Denies Wrongdoing After Internal Deflategate Investigation

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick Press Conference
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks to the media during a press conference to address the under inflation of footballs used in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 22, 2015 in Foxboro, Mass. Maddie Meyer—Getty Images

Atmospheric pressure, rubbing process blamed instead

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Saturday that a vigorous preparation process and atmospheric changes—not any tampering by his team—were to blame for the deflated game balls used in the first half of the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. According to Belichick, preparing the balls for use in a game artificially inflates their pressure, while taking them outdoors causes their pressure to drop.

In a soporific yet surreal press conference Saturday afternoon, Belichick offered what he said will be his final response to the unlikely “deflategate” uproar that has consumed much of the week. Like every press conference conference to result from this scandal, it offered a bonanza for the puerile-humor types out there. But it also had the equivalent of a high-school thermodynamics lesson.

Belichick said that a Patriots investigation this week found that a ball’s pressure might fall by a pound-per-square-inch or more when it leaves the controlled climate of the officials’ locker room and reaches its equilibrium on the field. He declined to comment on the particulars of Sunday’s atmospheric conditions and ball-handling protocol, referring those questions to the NFL.

Belichick said, “I’m embarrassed to talk about all the time I’ve put into this…I’m not a scientist.” He added, “I’m not the Mona Lisa Vito of the football world,” referencing Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning turn as an accidental tire forensics expert in 1992’s My Cousin Vinny. So who is? These questions need answers.

TIME discoveries

Bizarre Creatures Found Living Under Half a Mile of Ice

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The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica Getty Images

A National Science Foundation-funded expedition to the Antarctic has unearthed a surprising result: There are fish who live without sunlight under almost half a mile of ice in 28-degree water.

Scientists had never before sampled the Whillans Ice Stream, a river of ice between the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Ross Ice Shelf. The drilling mission, which began on Jan. 8, aimed to better understand climate change by recovering sediment and seawater samples for examination. A small, remotely operated vehicle would peruse the ocean floor and photograph rocks and whatever microbial life might be there. They expected little, because of the water’s extreme distance from sunlight (a major nutrient for underwater environments) and its clarity, which suggests an absence of food sources.

But the vehicle wound up attracting 20 to 30 fish, with other crustaceans as well. Researchers don’t yet know how the ecosystem functions, but they’re hopeful that the fish’s survival under such harsh conditions holds broader clues.

[Scientific American]

TIME NBA

Watch: The Warriors’ Klay Thompson Had the Best Quarter of All Time

Video tells the tale

Until Friday night, the NBA record for most points scored in a period belonged to George “Iceman” Gervin, who dropped 33 for the San Antonio Spurs one night in April ’78 (he had a scoring title to clinch), and to Carmelo Anthony, who scored 33 for the Nuggets against Minnesota in December 2008. Gervin could shoot, and so could—can?—Anthony.

But neither has anything on the league’s reigning assassin, the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson, who managed 37 points in a fiery third quarter against the sad-sack Sacramento Kings. (The Warriors, overall, had 41 points in the quarter.) Thompson went 13-for-13 from the field, including nine-of-nine from three-point range. He tied the record for most field goals in a quarter, and set a new record for most three-pointers. And he added in two free throws for good measure. SB Nation’s Seth Rosenthal has all the oohing and aching you’ll need, and Ray Ratto has the local color but for now behold this: With the win, the Warriors advanced to 35-6, five and a half games better than any comer the stellar West has to offer. They’re 9-1 in their last 10 and 20-1 at home. Good luck trying to catch them.

TIME deflategate

Deflategate Is Yet Another Bogus Scandal

AFC Championship - Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski #87 (not pictured) in the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Mass. Jim Rogash—Getty Images

Under-inflated pigskins are not, at least in terms of competitive balance, a big deal

Last year, as noted by Slate but also by most everyone with antennae for such things, was a year characterized by outrage. Some of it registered to these eyes as earnest, some of it not so much—but 2014 may as well have been characterized by the absence of reliable, responsible arbitrators. Whether out of academia-drilled rigid lefty deference, or out of mere laziness, the b.s.-spotters took a holiday. This is why the year felt like one extended apology tour for Lena Dunham, this is why a software company with a market cap of $36 billion went on Twitter to announce that it stood against bullying. Crazy times, October.

To judge by the first month of 2015, and especially by our most treasured cultural institution—the NFL playoffs—this year is shaping up to be similarly brutal. The story, for those lucky enough to have missed it: The New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs for the first half of their 45-7 semifinal triumph over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. “Deflategate” or “Ballghazi.” The NFL has firm standards for how inflated each ball should be, but the balls are returned to each team after a referee’s pre-game inspection. Each offense has its own balls, yes, due to the league’s foolish but by now unsurprising insistence on putting confounding vagaries in its rulebook. ESPN talked up proper PSI so much in the ensuing days you’d think the network had a deal with Pep Boys. The Patriots’ principals, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, told assembled media members in amusing Thursday press conferences that they had no idea how such a thing happened. (Brady has, naturally, previously expressed a fondness for under-inflated balls—so it happened, probably, with a ball boy’s needle.) “Balls” was uttered so often that any 13-year-old would have broken down giggling. The serious middle-aged NFL media members, though, needed no help containing themselves.

It should be stated plainly: This is not, at least in terms of competitive balance, a big deal. It’s like getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. But the popular uproar has been louder. At the heart of the sentiment against the Patriots—significant enough, by the way, that the league has retained the same investigative horsepower it deployed on the genuinely odious Miami Dolphins bullying scandal—is the notion that deflating the balls constituted some sort of more grievous sin against fair play.

Who could possibly believe this? Everyone lets a little air out of the pigskin, as former quarterback Matt Leinart has said. Deflated balls are easier to grip and catch; they give the offense an advantage, just like rub routes or hasty substitution patterns. No one could claim these evasions (equally deliberate, equally practiced) merit suspension. It’s gamesmanship, nothing more, and there ought to be an in-game penalty for it, if the referee susses out a slightly shriveled one.

Yet grievances full of chirping and false equivalencies have owned the week. Richard Sherman wants to know why the league won’t suspend Brady or Belichick. Former quarterback Mark Brunell nearly broke down on ESPN. A reporter even suggested Brady had done wrong by Uggs, his sponsor.

It’s thrilling and fun to watch the tarring of an evil empire—Belichick and Brady have been so good and so ruthless for so long—but it’s toxic when it happens like this. What do the chattering classes want? Should the NFL conduct yet another dawdling investigation to exonerate and venerate itself, when its own bad governance is to blame? Sounds like that’s the plan. All the while, we’re stripped slowly of our sense of proportion. I’ve seen the needle and the damage done, a little part of it in everyone.

TIME measles

Anti-Vaxxers Fingered in Disney Measles Outbreak

Doctors group urges measles shots as Disneyland outbreak spreads

A spokesman for the California state health department has told Reuters that he believes “unvaccinated individuals have been the principal factor” in a mid-December measles outbreak at Disneyland that has infected more than 70 people in six western states and Mexico, including five Disney employees.

The outbreak of the respiratory disease, which is caused by a highly communicable virus, has increased the focus on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Measles was thought to have been eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning the disease is not native to the U.S. (Nonetheless, 644 measles cases were reported in America in 2014.) But it is not uncommon in the rest of the world, and healthcare officials presume an infected foreigner brought the virus to Disneyland or the accompanying Disneyland Adventure Theme Park in Anaheim, Calif., between Dec. 15 and 20.

Of the 34 California measles victims whose vaccination history could be ascertained, 28 had not received the measles shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that children first receive the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine at the age of 12-15 months and then again between their fourth and sixth birthdays.

[Reuters]

TIME Utah

Porcupine Hunting With a Republican Watchdog

See nature snaps from the Congressional chairman zooming in on the White House

It’s like they always say: You’ve never been porcupine-hunting until you’ve been porcupine-hunting in the snowy hills of Park City, Utah, with the Republican incoming chairman of a congressional committee and his 14-year-old daughter.

I tagged along one December day with Rep. Jason Chaffetz—who was then on the cusp of his fourth term representing Utah’s Third District but his first as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Subscribers can the full story here in the Feb. 2 issue of TIME.) Chaffetz’s new perch means he’ll have the White House in his sights as Congress’s top watchdog. He’ll try to surface scandals that make the administration look bad.

Our expedition mercifully involved a Canon Rebel TI1 camera rather than a rifle; Chaffetz says he prefers the challenge of a bloodless hunt. Wildlife photography happens to be Chaffetz’s favorite recreational activity at home (this has something to do with a 2005 leg injury that keeps him off Utah’s renowned ski slopes). And the particular challenge on this day was to find a porcupine before sunset. Chaffetz had photographed elk, moose, wild horses and even a bald eagle before, but he had never captured the spiny rodent.

To see the fruit of Chaffetz’s labor, take a look at 12 photographs the Republican has taken over the years. As you will see, in this gallery of Chaffetz’s photos, the man got his prize.

TIME

Why So Serious, Roger Goodell?

Jack Dickey is a reporter for TIME focused on culture and sports. He is also a contributor to Sports Illustrated.

The shallow and spineless posturing of the NFL commissioner

On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell proposed to owners a tougher personal conduct policy for the league’s players. And the owners accepted: the new policy, the league said, will “embrace” independent investigations of player conduct off the field. In order to herald the coming change, Goodell also participated in a front-page feature for the Wall Street Journal in what appears to be the latest of many attempts to reassert the commissioner’s reputation for seriousness.

Monica Langley, an admired reporter who usually profiles titans of industry like Steve Ballmer and Jamie Dimon, scored “a series of interviews over a period of weeks this fall as the commissioner was caught flat-footed in the unfolding controversy.”

Here are some excerpts, which Deadspin’s Tom Ley called an “attempt to turn Roger Goodell into Robert Kennedy navigating the Cuban Missile Crisis”:

Late into the night on Sept. 10, executives in the NFL conference room brainstormed over ways to prove the commissioner wasn’t covering up for Mr. Rice. Pizzas arrived but no slice was taken until Mr. Goodell ate. He never did, and the slices turned cold in the box.

NFL General Counsel Jeffrey Pash suggested an independent investigation run by former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller. “Call him now,” Mr. Goodell said, despite the late hour.

As Mr. Goodell reviewed the cases with advisers, he jumped to take calls at his desk. During one, he told his twin 13-year-old daughters he wouldn’t be home for dinner. He also took calls from owners and player representatives begging for leniency. “Let me be clear,” Mr. Goodell barked to one caller, “we’re taking him off the field.”

Around that time, a friend, General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, told Mr. Goodell to “stop and apologize now,” Mr. Immelt said. “This is fast-moving and deeply felt.”

National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver and Mr. Goodell compared notes over lunch at 21 Club in Manhattan. “You can learn from what we’re going through,” Mr. Goodell told him.

More than any other person in the sports world, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wishes to convey that he is a serious man. He is unfailingly humorless, both in his public appearances and his interactions with his players. He tries to look the whole package, too. He’s a workout freak, so he can never be an empty suit in the most literal sense, and he’s cribbed Clint Eastwood’s perpetual squint at trouble in the distance. In spite of the sport’s essential rowdiness, Goodell has always been that way—he once told FORTUNE that as a six-year-old he looked up to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

The funny-as-hell thing about Goodell’s seriousness is that it’s a pose. A goofy, dopey, dishonest pose, one that frequently falls apart under the tiniest scintilla of scrutiny, be it a sympathetic player facing punishment or mounting medical evidence of the game’s longterm ravages. His seemingly careful moral calculus then gets laid bare as a PR strategy, and typically not a very good one, either.

This happened most recently less than three months ago, with the controversy over TMZ’s Ray Rice tape. NFL insiders had leaked to all the appropriate veteran reporters that league brass had investigated the matter thoroughly. As the story went, the league had seen the tape of what happened in the elevator and punished Rice appropriately, with a two-game ban. Then the tape came out, and Goodell then insisted publicly that neither he nor anyone at the league had ever seen it. He determined, too, that Rice now needed a stiffer suspension, which went from two games to a two-game ban he thought too lenient but wouldn’t adjust, to an indefinite suspension, to no suspension, at the behest of a retired federal judge who said Goodell had “abuse[d his] discretion.”

I’ve read the Journal piece over a few times, and I can’t tell whether it’s high satire—the Journal, in the driest tone imaginable, laughs at the transparent method Goodell employs in hopes of recreating an image he had to abandon on account of transparent phoniness earlier this fall—or just another too-credulous account of a lightweight commissioner. (An aside: It’s also hard to tell which details Langley got firsthand, and which came from sources, or what ground rules she may have agreed to in order to get access. It’s hard to imagine the most important detail to come from an all-hands crisis meeting at NFL headquarters concerned the pizza.) It looks a lot like the latter, owing to the accretion of these details and this passage, too:

Meantime, the Rices are fighting back. Last month, an independent arbitrator awarded Mr. Rice reinstatement to the NFL. Janay Rice—now his wife—accused Mr. Goodell of being dishonest when he had said Mr. Rice misled him about the punching. “I don’t take those things personally,” Mr. Goodell said.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s a non-defense of what would be a substantial lie for Goodell, if Rice is telling the truth. But he’s allowed to brush it off as nonsense from a disgraced couple. These are the perks, apparently, of being a very serious man.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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