Mebust: “Deflategate” diverts attention from more serious league issues

By talking about deflated footballs, one can criticize the National Football League without having to bring up concussions or domestic violence. At first glance, the coverage on ESPN, the Internet and cable news shows could cause one to think that some of the uproar with “Deflategate” is justified.

Eleven of the 12 balls used in the American Football Conference Championship—which determines one of the two Super Bowl contenders—were found to be below the regulation pressure of 12.5 PSI.

The New England Patriots did defeat the Indianapolis Colts, but the deflated balls were only used for the first half of the game. According to WTHR columnist Bob Kravitz, the Colts would be the first to admit that the Patriots still would have definitively knocked their half-hearted Super Bowl fantasies into oblivion, even if they played with a hockey puck.

There is also no evidence that anyone tampered with the balls. As Sal Khan pointed out in a recent Khan Academy video, applying the ideal gas law shows that temperature changes which resulted from exposing the balls outside to January cold air and precipitation pretty much account for the changes in the balls’ pressure. While that is not the definitive finding of the investigation, it has been found that only one of the balls was 2 PSI below the regulation 12.5; the rest were only a few “ticks” low.

This seemingly unimportant, yet disproved scandal is a distraction from and a substitute for two controversial and uncomfortable issues. These problems need to be talked about, however, and we cannot let non-issues like “Deflategate” distract from the ones that really do impact many peoples’ lives.

According to NFL statistics, there were 228 diagnosed concussions during preseason and regular-season practices and games combined in 2013. For a league of about 2,500 players, that is a worrying number.

Far more alarming, however, is the recent finding that impacts that are not strong enough to cause actual concussions can still cause serious brain damage and in some cases, can add up to the damage expected from multiple concussions. The accumulation of these smaller, everyday head collisions can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease which has been linked with depression, memory loss and suicide.

What needs to be discussed is the fact that players incur these injuries in brutal, all-out struggles for entertainment. Instead of whining about how flat Tom Brady’s balls are, we should start talking about fair compensation for player injuries and start designing better safety equipment.

The NFL’s other epidemic that has been plaguing the news over the past several months is domestic violence. The relative arrest rate of NFL players for domestic violence is 55.4 percent.

Clearly, NFL players are arrested for these crimes far more often than others with comparable levels of financial security. As members of society, we have to question if the high degree of prestige we afford them is the cause of their behavior.

The media scandalizes deflated footballs while important and dangerous issues within the NFL are swept under the rug.