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‘Deflategate’ Probe Finds Patriots Employees Likely Tampered With Balls

4 minute read

New England’s Super Bowl honeymoon is over.

The “Deflategate” controversy, in which the New England Patriots were accused of releasing air pressure from footballs prior to the team’s 45-7 walloping of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18, all but vanished following New England’s thrilling Super Bowl win over Seattle in early February. But on Wednesday, it came roaring back after the findings of an NFL-ordered investigation were released. Here’s a quick guide:

What did the ‘Deflategate’ report find?

According to the report from attorney Ted Wells, whom the NFL tasked with getting to the bottom of Deflategate, “it is more probable than not” that two New England Patriots employees, locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski, “participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from Patriots game balls after the examination of the footballs by NFL game officials at the AFC Championship Game.”

Which other Patriots were implicated?

Star quarterback Tom Brady, of whom the report said it was “more probable than not” that he “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.” Brady said in January that he “would never have someone do something that was outside the rules.”

And what about Bill Belichick?

The report lets the rest of the team, including Head Coach Bill Belichik, off the hook. “We do not believe that the evidence establishes that any other Patriots personnel participated in or had knowledge of the violation of the Playing Rules or the deliberate effort to circumvent the rules described above,” wrote Wells and his team. “In particular, we do not believe there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, Head Coach Belichick or any other Patriots coach in the matters investigated.”

How did the report come to this conclusion?

It cites text messages between McNally and Jastremski — which included McNally referring to himself as the “deflator” — to support its findings. It also relies on circumstantial evidence, such as McNally “bringing the game balls into the bathroom during his walk from the Officials Locker Room to the field, locking the door and remaining inside the bathroom with the game balls for approximately one minute and forty seconds, an amount of time sufficient to deflate thirteen footballs using a needle.”

And how does it figure Brady was involved?

Texts exchanged by McNally and Jastremski that suggest Brady knew what was going on. In October 2014, for example, Jastremski wrote: “Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done … ” The “him,” the report believes, in this context refers to Brady, and “get them done” refers to the tampering. The report also cites increased text and phone communication between Brady and Jastremski — after that had not communicated electronically in six months — after the tampering allegations went public following the AFC Championship game.

What does the New England Patriots say about the report?

Owner Robert Kraft released a statement challenging its findings. “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,” Kraft said. “While I respect the independent process of the investigation, the time, effort and resources expended to reach this conclusion are incomprehensible to me. Knowing that there is no real recourse available, fighting the league and extending this debate would prove to be futile. We understand and greatly respect the responsibility of being one of 32 in this league and, on that basis, we will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league.”

Why does it matter if the balls were deflated anyway?

Let this video explain:

What happens next?

NFL fans will want to hear more, especially from Brady. And the Pats must face this uncomfortable question: if it’s true they cheated in the championship game, did they steal this year’s Super Bowl?



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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com