TIME Athletes

U.S. Ranks Worst in Sports Homophobia Study

Will gay athletes find acceptance on the field?

Throughout most of high school, Michael Martin—a senior at Musselman High School in Inwood, W. Va.—kept his sexuality hidden from his soccer teammates. “I was afraid I would get harassed, tormented, made fun of a lot,” said Martin, who knew he was gay since middle school. “I wasn’t afraid of physical abuse necessarily. But I thought guys would do stuff like throw the ball at me. On purpose.” Martin says he heard the word faggot all too many times.

According to new research released on Saturday, Martin is far from alone. The study, entitled “Out On The Fields” and billed as “the first international study on homophobia in sport,” is a survey of nearly 9,500 people, mostly from six countries (the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand). The researchers found that 80% of all participants and 82% of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) participants “said they have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport.” Of those reporting personal experience with homophobia, 84% of gay men and 82% of lesbians said they had received verbal slurs like faggot and dyke. Also, 81% of gay men and 74% of lesbians who were under 22 at the time of the study reported being completely or partially in the closet to teammates while playing youth sports. Nearly half of gay men and 32% of lesbians hid their sexuality while playing youth sports because they feared rejection by teammates. Only 1% of all participants believed LGB people were “completely accepted” in sports culture; 78% said that an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.

“Unfortunately,” the authors wrote, “the study found few positive signs in any country that LGB people are welcome and safe playing team sports.”

(Participants in the study were not asked whether they identified as transgender, as experts consider transphobia and homophobia distinct forms of discrimination in sports, and the researchers decided to focus the study on sexuality rather than gender identity.)

The study found the U.S. had the highest percentage of gay men reporting that they had received verbal threats in a sports environment, and the highest percentage of gay men who heard slurs. In fact, of the six countries surveyed, the U.S. ranked worst in sports homophobia and discrimination, as measured by the “inclusion score” developed by the researchers. (Canada had the highest score, followed by Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Ireland and the U.S.) “It’s sad that the U.S. fared so poorly,” said Pat Griffin, professor emerita in social justice education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the academic team that advised the study authors. “It feels like we’ve made a lot of progress with the acceptance of homosexuality in sports. But going by these results, we have a long way to go.”

The “Out On The Fields” report comes with caveats. Though the project’s academic consultants insist that they reviewed the survey methodology and results, it’s not a peer-reviewed paper published in an established journal. The lead author is a former journalist who’s a member of the Sydney Convicts Rugby Union Club, Australia’s first gay rugby team. Joshua Newman, a sports sociologist from Florida State University who is unaffiliated with this project, reviewed the document for TIME. “The recruitment and sampling technique used likely resulted in a significant over-representation of higher-earning, racial- and ethnic-majority, pro-LGBT respondents to the study,” Newman writes in an email. “Are those representative of the broader populations in the English-speaking world more generally?”

Despite its flaws, Newman wrote, “I am inclined to say that the findings are important and the study holds the potential provide a significant contribution. This is the largest study of its kind yet to be undertaken. The results illustrate the extent to which LGB sport participants across multiple nations share common experiences of harassment, bullying, and even physical violence. It reaffirms what most LGB and straight athletes in these contexts already know, that homophobic language and action remain effective techniques for normalizing heteronormative masculinity in the sports domain. If we are going to take issues of (in)equality and civil rights seriously, this study reminds us that there’s no better place to start than on the sports field.”

Jason Collins, the first openly gay active athlete in the four major U.S. sports, has witnessed the power of sports firsthand. As more athletes come out, Collins thinks attitudes and behavior will change. “When I was in the closet, I would hear homophobic language in the locker room,” said Collins, who came out in 2013 and spent part of the 2014 season with the Brooklyn Nets. “However, when I came out, not one of my teammates ever used homophobic comments. It’s hard to change habits, it’s hard to change people’s language. But it is possible.”

Collins believes that sports homophobia would decline if Michael Sam—the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, now a free agent—got a shot. “We need Michael Sam to play in the NFL,” said Collins. “I know he’s been training hard. We just need an owner, a coach, one of the NFL teams to give him an opportunity.” Why is Sam so crucial? “The NFL is very popular in this country,” said Collins. “Just to have his example, as an openly gay NFL player, going out there making plays, helping his team win—it’s another example of somebody living their authentic life. And hopefully it would encourage other NFL players who are in the closet to come forward.”

The study found that many gay athletes chose to stay in the closet because they fear rejection from teammates. Arizona State backup offensive lineman Chip Sarafin, who last year became the first active college football player at a major program to publicly announce he was gay—Sam only told his Missouri teammates—found acceptance. “As long as you put forth the effort,” said Sarafin, “people won’t care about your sexuality.”

What advice do gay athletes have for younger players struggling with their sexuality in sports? “Don’t quit,” said John Fennell, an Olympic luge athlete from Canada who came out to teammates in Russia, of all places, during the Sochi Games. “All too often I hear about talented gay athletes who leave sports because they don’t feel welcome. But they do belong. If I had given up sports, I would have wound up on a very different path. Sports shaped the person I am. My tenacity, ability to set goals and achieve them—I attribute that to my success in sports.”

“My advice is that there’s a lot of love and support waiting for you when you live your authentic life,” said Collins. “I understand everyone has their own path. Trust me, it took me 33 years of my life before I told another human being the words ‘I am gay.’ I hope all of them get to that point of self-acceptance.”

Michael Martin, the high school soccer player from West Virginia, arrived there this fall. He finally told his teammates he was gay—and danced with his boyfriend in front of the school. He has no regrets. “I feel like I played completely better with that weight off my shoulder,” said Martin. “It’s an uplifting feeling. I’m so glad I did it.”

TIME Media

3 Reasons Bill Simmons Leaving ESPN Is a Big Deal

"Son Of The Congo" - 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival
Heather Kennedy—Getty Images Bill Simmons attends the premiere of "Son of the Congo" during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center in Austin on Mar. 14, 2015.

Even if you're not a big sports fan

After months of rumors, ESPN made its split with Bill Simmons official Friday. It’s rare that a writer’s departure from a media outlet creates so much interest–even if the writer is one of America’s most influential sports personalities and the outlet is among the world’s most valuable media companies–but here’s why Simmons leaving matters:

1. Bill Simmons is a major brand

At a time when the monetary value of the written word has been diminished, people know Bill Simmons’ name and listen to what he has to say, making him a valuable asset. His columns at ESPN have historically been the most popular on the site. His podcast, the B.S. Report, was downloaded 32 million times in 2013, long before the format had a renaissance last year. His dead tree book, The Book of Basketball, is a no. 1 New York Times bestseller. And he is an established on-air personality on ESPN shows like NBA Countdown.

Thanks to his massive reach (Twitter following: 3.68 million and counting), ESPN allowed Simmons to start his own sports and pop culture website, Grantland, under their banner. That move helped pave the way for a wave of other media brands built around the distinct visions of their founders (see below).

Simmons is also responsible for some of ESPN’s most critically-acclaimed recent programming. He was the mastermind behind the award-winning documentary series 30 for 30. Originally conceived as a way to mark ESPN’s 30th anniversary, the films were so successful that the company decided to continue funding the ambitious projects for years to come.

2. His brand has sway

Simmons has reach far beyond sports. Guests on the B.S. Report have included President Barack Obama, late night host Jimmy Kimmel (whose show Simmons once wrote for), Girls creator Lena Dunham, Mad Men actor Jon Hamm and author Malcolm Gladwell.

Dunham has proved to be a particularly enthusiastic supporter. After Simmons was suspended by ESPN for calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “liar” on his podcast during the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal and challenging ESPN to fire him, Dunham rallied celebrities like Judd Apatow to his defense on Twitter using the hashtag #FreeSimmons.

And other big editorial names listen to Simmons’ advice. When the statistician Nate Silver left the New York Times in 2013, it was Simmons (and Simmons’ dad) who helped convince him to turn his Five Thirty Eight site—known for predicting elections with freakish accuracy—into an appendage of ESPN structured similarly to Grantland.

3. His audience is loyal

Simmons re-imagined sports writing from the perspective of the fan, dispatching neutrality in favor of emotion and energy. When he began writing for AOL in 1997, the conventions of blogging didn’t even exist. Simmons’ stream of consciousness writing, filled with plenty of pop culture references, established a new kind of style, and his unabashed partisanship won over readers. (One column he wrote was titled “Is Clemens the Anti-Christ?”) He eventually branded himself as the “Sports Guy” for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine and spawned a legion of imitators. Wherever Simmons goes, his millions of fans will travel with him.

Still, losing Simmons won’t exactly be a death blow to ESPN, which is reportedly worth $50.8 billion. ESPN is an entertainment behemoth, and Simmons’ audience is just a small fraction of their overall reach.

TIME Football

Tom Brady Says Deflategate Scandal Doesn’t Taint Super Bowl Win

"We earned everything we got and achieved as a team"

(SALEM, Mass.) — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Thursday night the scandal surrounding his use of deflated footballs during the NFL playoffs last season hasn’t detracted in any way from his Super Bowl title.

“Absolutely not,” Brady told a friendly university crowd in his first public appearance since an NFL investigation concluded Brady likely knew Patriots employees were cheating.

“We earned everything we got and achieved as a team, and I am proud of that and so are our fans,” he said.

Brady declined to discuss his thoughts about the 243-page report that said that he was likely at least aware two team employees were breaking rules by deflating footballs for him.

“I don’t really have any reaction. It has only been 30 hours, I’ve not had much time to digest it,” Brady said. “When I do I will be sure to let you know how I feel about it. And everybody else.”

Brady said he will address things more once things play out and he is more comfortable. Brady is still waiting to see whether the league will discipline him with a fine, suspension or both.

“There is a process going forward and I am involved in this process,” he said.

Asked whether public backlash is bothering him, Brady said he accepts his role as a public figure and has people who support him and help him get through it.

“As a human you care about what people think. I think also as a public figure you learn not everyone is going to like you,” he said. “Good, bad or indifferent there are a lot of people who don’t like Tom Brady, and I am OK with that.”

The report by Ted Wells, an independent investigator hired by the NFL, found some of Brady’s claims implausible in explaining why balls were underinflated during the Patriots’ 45-7 win against Indianapolis in the AFC title game last season.

The superstar quarterback spoke at a Q&A session moderated by sportscaster Jim Gray during a previously scheduled, sold-out event at Salem State University. He arrived by helicopter for the talk on leadership, avoiding a long line of fans outside and media waiting for him to enter. The event was delayed more than 30 minutes to allow fans to file in, including some wearing Brady jerseys. During the wait, the crowd chanted “Brady” and “MVP,” then gave him a standing ovation as he walked in.

Gray said the session would largely stick to subjects they planned previously when they arranged the talk 4 months ago. But he acknowledged the difficulty in avoiding one of the hottest topics in sports.

“There’s an elephant in the room,” Gray said.

“Where?” Brady responded.

Gray shot back: “You might be the only one in the room who does not see it.”

Gray did not ask Brady directly whether he cheated or about specific issues raised in the report, including text messages and phone conversations that indicated the employees were trading autographed footballs and sneakers for doctoring the balls for Brady.

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said earlier Thursday that the NFL was determined to blame Brady, while the investigation omitted key facts and buried others.

The team didn’t respond to requests from The Associated Press seeking comment about the report from Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots didn’t make anyone available on Thursday, canceling prior plans to allow two players to be interviewed during voluntary team workouts held at the team’s headquarters in Foxborough.

The report didn’t find any evidence that Belichick or the coaching staff knew anything about deflating the balls.

Wells concluded there was no plausible explanation for the deflated footballs besides deliberate tampering. Text messages to and about Brady led to the conclusions that he was aware, if not more actively involved, in the scheme.

The NFL is now using Wells’ findings as it considers potential punishment. Brady, the MVP of the 2015 Super Bowl, could be fined or face a suspension. The Patriots are scheduled to play their opener against the Steelers in the kickoff game of the NFL regular season on Sept. 10.

___

AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in New York contributed to this report.

TIME

A-Rod Passes Willie Mays on Home Run List With No. 661

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) reacts as he heads to the dugout after hitting his 661st home run, surpassing Willie Mays for fourth on baseball's all-time home run list, in a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium in New York on May 7, 2015.
Kathy Willens—AP New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) reacts as he heads to the dugout after hitting his 661st home run, surpassing Willie Mays for fourth on baseball's all-time home run list, in a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium in New York on May 7, 2015.

Next up for Rodriguez: Babe Ruth at 714

(NEW YORK) — Alex Rodriguez passed Willie Mays for fourth place on the career homer list, connecting for No. 661 Thursday night an at-bat after he was robbed of the milestone drive by a leaping catch.

The New York Yankees star hit a liner off Baltimore’s Chris Tillman into a secure area just to the left of Monument Park in center field in the third inning. A-Rod sent a soaring shot in the first that Delmon Young caught by reaching over the top of the wall in right field.

Next up for Rodriguez: Babe Ruth at 714 home runs.

The Yankees, who said they will not pay a $6 million bonus after he matched the Say Hey Kid on Friday in Boston, put a message on the main videoboard saying, “661 Home Runs. Alex Rodriguez just surpassed Willie Mays for sole possession of 4th place on baseball’s all-time home runs list.”

The slugger pumped his fist as he rounded first base, and fans gave Rodriguez a standing ovation.

Mark Teixeira stepped out of the batter’s box as the cheers swelled. Rodriguez briefly emerged from the dugout and waved to the crowd with both hands above his head.

Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July, moved into a tie for fourth in the AL this season with seven home runs. He didn’t play last year while serving a drug suspension.

The Yankees and A-Rod have a marketing agreement that calls for $6 million each for up to five achievements, payable within 15 days of designation by the team. But New York has said the marketing possibilities were ruined after Rodriguez served his performance-enhancing drug penalty for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.

The accomplishments were contemplated to be homers 660, 714, 755 (Hank Aaron), 762 (Barry Bonds) and 763 as he moved up baseball’s list.

No payment likely would trigger a grievance on Rodriguez’s behalf by the players’ union. Without a settlement, the case would be heard by an arbitrator.

TIME Boxing

Mayweather Says No Rematch With ‘Sore Loser’ Pacquiao

Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, connects with a right to the head of Manny Pacquiao, from the Philippines, on May 2, 2015 in Las Vegas
John Locher—AP Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, connects with a right jab to the head of Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015

The gloves are off

(NEW YORK) — Floyd Mayweather said in an upcoming interview with Showtime that at this moment he’s not interested in a rematch with Manny Pacquiao “because he’s a sore loser and he’s a coward.”

The interview was recorded late Tuesday night and will air Saturday night after the network’s replay of boxing’s richest fight, which Mayweather won by decision last weekend in Las Vegas to stay undefeated.

Asked if he thought Pacquiao was hampered by the right shoulder injury that later required surgery, Mayweather tells Jim Gray, “Absolutely not.”

“Excuses, excuses, excuses,” he said later.

“He was fast,” Mayweather insists in quotes released Thursday. “His left hand was fast. His right hand was fast and he was throwing them both fast and strong.”

Using an expletive for emphasis, Mayweather adds that “I’m not going to buy into” it, “and I don’t want the public to buy into” it.

“He lost,” Mayweather said. “He knows he lost. I lost a lot of respect for him after all of this.”

Mayweather acknowledges that he earlier texted ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to say he welcomed a rematch.

“Yeah, but I change my mind,” Mayweather said. “At this particular time, no, because he’s a sore loser and he’s a coward. . If you lost, accept the loss and say, ‘Mayweather, you were the better fighter.'”

TIME People

Chris Christie Says Hype Over Tom Brady and Deflategate Is ‘Overblown’

New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady 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 January 22, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Maddie Meyer—Getty Images Tom Brady talks during a press conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., on Jan. 22, 2015

Governor blames media over heavy attention on Deflategate

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thinks the media circus over New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady potentially knowing that his team’s footballs were a little light on air is, frankly, “way, way overblown.”

“I don’t think anybody is really trying to say that Tom Brady won four super bowls or became a future Hall of Famer because the balls were a little under inflated,” Christie, a noted Cowboys fan, told IJ Review in an interview on Thursday in New Hampshire. “I think the media and others love for somebody who is married to a beautiful model, who is richer than you can imagine and who is a future Hall of Famer, to take a couple of shots at him? People like that every once in a while.”

Christie’s comments come one day after an NFL investigation found it was “more probable than not” that Brady was at least “generally aware” about team employees tampering with footballs.

[IJReview]

Read next: 6 Surreal Takeaways From the Deflategate Report

TIME portfolio

A Mordant Look at the Kentucky Derby With Martin Parr

The Magnum member photographed the race for TIME

Martin Parr has photographed the most famous horse races in the world. He’s shot races in England and France, in India and Sri Lanka, in Australia and South Africa and Zimbabwe. And yet he had never made it to one of the most celebrated races in the U.S., the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky.

“The Queen went in 2007,” Parr tells TIME. “She’s a racing nut as well, and she beat me to it by eight furlongs. So I finally decided to get around to it. I finally put it on my list and I’m very glad I did because it’s quite an event.”

With more than 170,000 people attending last weekend’s “most exciting two minutes in sports,” as the Kentucky Derby is known, Parr was in his own version of paradise. “I was delighted,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It’s very American: there’s no place where the prices are so huge. It’s American Capitalism at its best and worst. Everything out there was crazy.”

Parr is famous for his satirical approach and in an arena known for extravagance being on full display, it was easy pickings for the English photographer. “You just walk around and you take pictures,” he says. “You get a little bit tired with people with hats, so it’s your job to find something a bit different. That’s the aspiration. Otherwise all these races pictures would look the same. But, of course, the hat is irresistible. It’s a photographer’s dream.”

The secret, he adds, is to find the places that will keep on giving: “You locate different hotspots and different places that you keep coming back to. It’s a massive space. I probably didn’t get to every grandstand, every corner. So you go back to the same places where you know things reveal themselves. And then, you watch the actual race. You’re waiting for the person to erupt when their horse looks like it might be winning, and they’re screaming and shouting.”

Martin Parr is a member of the Magnum Photos agency.

Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s deputy director of photography.

Olivier Laurent is the Editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME Basketball

Video Shown at Cleveland Cavaliers Game Sparks Outrage

Critics say the video promotes domestic violence

A video shown during a Cleveland Cavaliers game on Wednesday, which was also posted online, quickly drew criticism for seeming to make light of domestic violence.

The video skit, which aired on the Jumbotron as the Cavaliers played the Chicago Bulls, ends with a man throwing his girlfriend to the ground while they dance to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” when he sees her wearing a Bulls T-shirt. The skit is apparently a spoof of a similar UnitedHealthcare ad, in which a couple crashes into table while dancing to the song. See a copy of the video above.

After TIME asked the Cavaliers to comment on the controversy, the organization responded with a statement that said that while the video was meant to be a “humorous spoof,” “Domestic violence is a very serious matter and has no place in a parody video that plays in an entertainment venue. We sincerely apologize to those who have been affected by domestic violence for the obvious negative feelings caused by being exposed to this insensitive video.”

Twitter, naturally, has been doing a lot of its own commenting:

TIME Football

Tom Brady’s Agent Slams ‘Deflategate’ Report

In this Jan. 22, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at a news conference about the NFL investigation into deflated footballs, in Foxborough, Mass.
Elise Amendola—AP In this Jan. 22, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at a news conference about the NFL investigation into deflated footballs, in Foxborough, Mass.

“It is a sad day for the league,” Don Yee said in a statement.

The agent who represents New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady accused investigators of bias in an outraged rebuttal to Wednesday’s “Deflategate” report.

“The Wells report, with all due respect, is a significant and terrible disappointment,” Don Yee said in a statement released Thursday. “It’s omission of key facts and lines of inquiry suggest the investigators reached a conclusion first, and then determined so-called facts later.”

A report from attorney Ted Wells found that it was “more probable than not” that two Patriots employees deliberately deflated balls below regulation levels during January’s AFC Championship Game. Brady, the report said, was probably “at least generally aware” of their operation.

[See more: 6 Surreal Takeaways From the Deflategate Report]

Though he did not address Brady’s culpability, Yee said Brady fully cooperated with the investigation and “made himself available for nearly an entire day.”

“For reasons unknown, the Wells report omitted nearly all of Tom’s testimony, most of which was critical because it would have provided this report with the context that it lacks.”

See Yee’s full statement:

The Wells report, with all due respect, is a significant and terrible disappointment. It’s omission of key facts and lines of inquiry suggest the investigators reached a conclusion first, and then determined so-called facts later.

One fact alone taints this entire report. What does it say about the league office’s protocols and ethics when it allows one team to tip it off to an issue prior to a championship game, and no league officials or game officials notified the Patriots of the same issue prior to the game? This suggests it may be more probable than not that the league cooperated with the Colts in perpetrating a sting operation. The Wells report buries this issue in a footnote on page 46 without any further elaboration.

The league is a significant client of the investigators’ law firm; it appears to be a rich source of billings and media exposure based on content in the law firm’s website. This was not an independent investigation and the contents of the report bear that out — all one has to do is read closely and critically, as opposed to simply reading headlines.

The investigators’ assumptions and inferences are easily debunked or subject to multiple interpretations. Much of the report’s vulnerabilities are buried in the footnotes, which is a common legal writing tactic. It is a sad day for the league as it has abdicated the resolution of football-specific issues to people who don’t understand the context or culture of the sport.

I was physically present for my client’s interview. I have verbatim notes of the interview. Tom made himself available for nearly an entire day and patiently answered every question. It was clear to me the investigators had limited understanding of professional football. For reasons unknown, the Wells report omitted nearly all of Tom’s testimony, most of which was critical because it would have provided this report with the context that it lacks.

Mr. Wells promised back in January to share the results of this investigation publicly, so why not follow through and make public all of the information gathered and let the public draw its own conclusions? This report contains significant and tragic flaws, and it is common knowledge in the legal industry that reports like this generally are written for the benefit of the purchaser.

TIME Football

What’s Next for Tom Brady After ‘Deflategate’

Tom Brady speaks to the media at a press conference at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 22, 2015.
Brad Horrigan—Zumapress Tom Brady speaks to the media at a press conference at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 22, 2015.

The NFL investigation might do what none of Tom Brady's other controversies and near-misses could

(FOXBOROUGH, Mass.) — Tom Brady smiled away the Tuck Rule on the way to his first Super Bowl victory, flashing that dimple-chinned grin that said, “I had it all the time.”

The New England Patriots’ illegal videotaping. His name popping up in baseball’s steroid investigation. Shenanigans with the NFL injury list. An out-of-wedlock child with the actress he jilted before marrying the world’s richest supermodel.

Nothing stuck to Teflon Tom.

But the league investigation into the deflated footballs used in this year’s AFC championship game might do what none of the other controversies and near-misses could: tarnish the legacy of Tom Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion and the title game’s reigning MVP.

“What I see is that he goes from being ‘Tom Perfect’ to ‘Tom Not-So-Perfect’ in some people’s eyes,” Marc Ganis, president of sports business consulting firm SportsCorp, said Wednesday after the release of the NFL’s report on the scandal that came to be known as “Deflategate.”

In a 243-page report, NFL investigator Ted Wells found that Patriots employees violated the league rules covering game balls, and that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the plans to doctor the footballs to his liking. The report found some of Brady’s claims were “implausible,” adding: “It is unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady’s knowledge and approval.”

The findings were forwarded to the league’s disciplinary chief for potential punishment. Brady could be fined or face a suspension that would keep him out of Week 1 — the marquee league opener at which the Super Bowl banner would traditionally be raised.

The Patriots did not respond to a request for a comment from Brady or coach Bill Belichick, who was exonerated in the report. The team canceled a previously scheduled availability for Thursday.

Owner Bob Kraft issued a spirited statement in defense of his team and questioned Wells’ conclusions. “To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship Game, would be a gross understatement,” he said.

But Wells concluded there was no plausible explanation for the deflated footballs except deliberate tampering. And text messages to and about Brady led the investigator to conclude that he was aware, if not more actively involved, in the scheme.

Regardless of his punishment, Brady’s legacy is now tied to the scandal. But the main effect of that, Ganis said, could be to solidify opinions that are already largely entrenched: Opposing fans will continue to doubt him, and fans in New England, where he was once seen as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, will rally to his defense.

“As far as his marketability goes, he is still arguably the most marketable player in the NFL,” said Ganis, who grew up a New York Jets fans and is now based in Chicago.

“Tom Brady has been the face of the NFL, with Peyton Manning, for a number of years. He has been an extraordinary ambassador, with cross-over popularity,” he said. “If this is all there is, it will be something that is talked about him when he is elected to the Hall of Fame.”

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