Remember this tweet?
For months, those numbers were the defining narrative of the Patriots’ football-deflation scandal. It went from smoke, a rumor reported only by an Indianapolis reporter, to a full-blown conflagration given the national imprimatur of ESPN. It indicated that the cheating was on such a scale and of such quality that it couldn’t have been anything but deliberate and organized.
It wasn’t true.
The Wells Report revealed that, depending on which of the two sets of measurements were used, one or none of the 11 footballs were as much as 2 PSI under the minimum.
The accurate figures might have changed public perception, and perhaps even dampened the momentum of the NFL’s investigation and discipline, which will cost the Patriots a million dollars, two draft picks, and four games of Tom Brady. We’ll never know, because someone gave Mortensen false information designed to make the Patriots look bad. There’s zero chance that “someone” doesn’t work for the NFL.
Pro Football Talk has been hammering this story, and caught Mortensen’s ESPN colleague, Adam Schefter, on WEEI with Dennis & Callahan yesterday morning. Schefter doesn’t blame Mort for publishing what he believed to be solid information from a reputable source. Mortensen had no reason not to believe the info was accurate, because it was almost certainly coming from the NFL itself.
“[Any reporter in the country, if they have high level people calling them, giving them this information, almost anyone’s gonna run with it,” Schefter said.
“If that is indeed the case that one, two, three high-level individuals intentionally misled him to try to smear the Patriots, I saw more shame on those people than Mort.”
I think Mortensen’s a fine dude. He’s a good reporter, very plugged-in (yes, that includes to the league office), and during the Ray Rice scandal, reached out to express some what-I-consider-respectable opinions on the perception reporters were being used by the NFL. If the league fed him bad info on Ballghazi, I trust that no one’s more upset about it than he is.
We’ll never know. Mort was supposed to appear on Dennis & Callahan this morning, but backed out when he discovered that the hosts were repeatedly teasing his appearance by promising he would address his false report. Via PFT, here’s what he told WEEI:
“You guys made a mistake by drumming up business for the show and how I would address my reporting for the first time,” Mortensen informed WEEI. “I will not allow WEEI, Kraft, or anybody to make me the centerpiece of a story that has been misreported far beyond anything I did in the first 48 hours. Maybe when the lawsuit is settled, in Brady’s favor, I hope, we can revisit. Don’t call.”
That’s a shame—it would be great if Mortensen could honestly and earnestly explain what went down. But of course, he wouldn’t have been able to do that anyway. Whoever Mort heard this from, it’s someone powerful enough that he can’t afford to burn them, because he’ll need that source in the future. This is the devil’s bargain made all sports league “insiders” like Mortensen: being plugged-in means they always run the risk of being used for their sources’ agendas—and every once in a while, just rarely enough to maintain trust—their sources’ lies.