Patriots staff ‘guilty’ – it’s the text messages, always the text messages

Read the report yourself
Read the report yourself

How many times do I have to remind you all: Text messages are *not* private.  If you plan to deflate footballs to the liking of your quarterback in exchange for memorabilia, communicate in person.  Only in person.

By now you know that the NFL has sort-of-kind-of found the Super Bowl-winning Patriots guilty of cheating, but not really, by intentionally deflating footballs prior to the AFC championship game last year.  Well, the NFL’s CSI:PSI report says the team didn’t cheat, but that it is “more probable than not” that team employees participated in rule bending, and that quarterback Tom Brady was “generally aware” of it.

There’s unending debate about whether or not slightly under-inflated footballs help at all.  I’ll leave that for the sports channels.

But now there is no debate that something weird went on.  We already knew that a Pats employee had taken a bag of balls into a bathroom — and away from cameras — for about 100 seconds before the game.  But even that video evidence proved nothing. There were skits suggesting that no one could under-inflate balls during such a quick pit stop.

But now we have evidence, thanks to “private” text messages swapped by employees.  The NFL report includes some of the dialog. Before the season began, one employee even referred to himself as “the deflator” in text messages.  The below is from Jan. 11, allegedly discussing payment for under-inflating footballs.

Employee 1: Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to sign

Employee 2: U got it kid…big autograph day for you

Employee 1: Nice throw some kicks in and make it real special

Employee 2: (If) ur lucky. 11? McNally: 11 or 11 and half kid

I’ve omitted the employees’ names because I find it unconscionable that those two pawns will take the fall for this “crime.”

The texts could be construed in lots of ways, of course.  Were they merely dialog reported second-hand, these sentences could be dismissed out of hand. But here they are, in context, part of an electronic record.  Man jokes about deflation, man demands memorabilia, man disappears with balls, man gets memorabilia, balls are deflated.

Enough with the deflated footballs. There’s a lesson here for all of us.  Often, what we perceive as private isn’t private.  It should be obvious from the texts that the Patriots employees were smart enough to be talking in a kind of code. No one says, directly, “I’ve deflated the balls for Tom!”  But talking in code isn’t enough to protect privacy.  It’s not very hard to piece together digital breadcrumbs like this.  Pieces of information betray a lot more than you think. All of us fall into the trap of thinking our electronic conversations are private, or at least we never imagine that they might end up printed on a piece of paper in the middle of some kind of legal battle.

The next time you text, Tweet, Facebook message, email, or comment, think of deflate-gate.  Think twice.

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About Bob Sullivan 1463 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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