But the sport has a bigger problem: Eighty-five percent in a new ESPN/ABC News poll think other teams do the same kind of thing.
The national survey finds Americans by more than a 2-1 margin lining up behind the league’s move this week to suspend Brady for four games, fine the Patriots $1 million and dock it two draft picks: Sixty-three percent support the action, vs. 26 percent opposed. Support rises to 76 percent among avid fans, and 69 percent of those fans say flat out that Brady cheated.
But the controversy may not define the celebrated quarterback’s career: Despite the episode, 63 percent of Americans, rising to 73 percent of avid fans, say they’d support Brady’s eventual election to the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
That said, perhaps the most troubling result in the poll, produced for ESPN and ABC News by Langer Research Associates, is the sense that the deflation incident represents broader practice. A mere 6 percent think this kind of thing is limited to the Patriots; 85 percent say “it happens with other NFL teams as well.”
That includes vast majorities of fans and non-fans and Brady critics and supporters alike. Even among avid fans, just 12 percent see the situation as limited to the New England team.
The Patriots were sanctioned in 2007 for videotaping opposing teams’ coaches to study their play signals. But the poll’s result on suspected misdeeds elsewhere indicates the public overwhelmingly sees this not as a Patriots-only issue, but as an example of broader behavior in the league.
The NFL based its sanctions on an investigation by attorney Ted Wells that, while lacking conclusive evidence, found it “more probable than not” that Patriots personnel deflated balls intentionally before the AFC game and that Brady probably was “at least generally aware” of it. Two lower-level employees were implicated; the team’s coaches and other senior management were not.
Perhaps as a result, just a narrow majority of Americans, 52 percent, say the Patriots cheated; 38 percent think not, with the rest unsure. As with Brady himself, though, belief that the team cheated rises among avid fans, in this case to 63 percent.
FANS – Differences among fans are notable, especially the way avid fans differentiate among issues given their appreciation for the sport. On one hand, as noted, they’re especially likely to support the sanctions and to say Brady and the Patriots cheated. On the other, avid fans also are more apt than occasional or nonfans to support Brady for the Hall of Fame and to see him as a good role model, and much more apt than others to say the Super Bowl victory is not tainted by this incident (58 percent take that position). All these suggest that avid fans’ views of Brady and the Patriots’ sports achievements mitigate the damage from the deflation incident.
Among other results, avid fans’ support for the NFL punishment is particularly deep as well as broad. Not only do 76 percent support the sanctions, but 55 percent of avid fans do so “strongly,” more than in other groups.
OTHERS – Support for the sanctions, naturally, is especially high among people who think Brady (or the Patriots) cheated. And there are other differences based on this view. Brady’s seen as a good role model for young people by 80 percent of those who think he did not cheat, vs. just 40 percent of those who think he cheated. Similarly, 82 percent of those who think he didn’t cheat back Brady for the Hall of Fame; among those who think he cheated it’s still a majority, but a much smaller one, 57 percent.
Other differences include a gender gap on some issues. Sixty-four percent of men see Brady as a good role model, while just 41 percent of women agree. Men are 20 percentage points more likely than women to support Brady as a future hall of famer, 73 vs. 53 percent. And women are 11 points more apt than men to see the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XLIX as tainted, 51 vs. 40 percent.
METHODOLOGY – This ESPN/ABC News survey was conducted by landline and cellular telephone interviews May 12, 2015, among a random national sample of 504 adults. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of 5 percentage points. The survey was designed and analyzed for ESPN and ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS of Media, Pa.