When the National Football League announced sanctions against the New England Patriots and their star quarterback, Tom Brady, for tampering with game balls, the world went to social media to react.
A recent NFL investigation showed that Brady and the Patriots deliberately broke rules by deflating footballs before a playoff game. Apparently, slightly deflated footballs are easier to grip and throw.
Regardless of where you come down on “Deflategate,” it was fascinating to watch how fans and nonfans, spectators and commentators used social media to voice support. Some people supported the Patriots and Brady, some supported the NFL’s decision, and some just didn’t care and wish the whole thing would go away.
Here are a few interesting observations:
1. The Patriots and Brady are united. In a sign of solidarity, the New England Patriots changed their profile pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to a picture of Brady.
The image is a shot of Brady’s back, wearing his No. 12 jersey. The message from the Patriots to Brady is obvious: “We’ve got your back, Tom.” It was also a reaffirming message to all the supporters (and nonsupporters) of Tom Brady.
It’s somewhat unusual for a team to promote one individual player at any one time on social media in such a high-profile way. The other 31 teams use logos as their profile image. For example, the classic orange helmet identifies the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers use the “Steelmark” logo.
The other teams could feature stars, but they don’t.
It’s unclear if this move violates the NFL’s social media policy, but it probably only aggravates an already-tense relationship between the league and the team.
2. Patriots fans are united. As part of the sanctions against the Patriots, the team was fined $1 million. In response, a few loyal fans created a GoFundMe account to help the Patriots pay the fine.
The page creator, Michael Whitman, posted “We obviously know we won’t reach One Million Dollars, however we do believe the fine is bulls**t and want to help anyway we can ... whatever is donated will be donated to the New England Patriots in help with the fine ... we will fly down there [on our own expenses] and deliver a check in person!”
We can only assume Whitman means to “fly down” to the NFL headquarters in New York City and hand the check directly to commissioner Roger Goodell.
Clearly, the Patriots don’t need the money. According to Forbes magazine, the team is worth in excess of $2.6 billion. They’re the second-most-valuable team in the league (behind the Dallas Cowboys at $3 billion).
And there’s no indication the Patriots would even accept the donations.
This hasn’t deterred Whitman.
“If our donations are not accepted by The New England Patriots [assuming we get in contact with them], we plan to donate the money to some great causes,” Whitman posted.
So far, the account has generated a little more than $16,000 in pledges.
~ A version of this column appeared in the Sunday, May 17, 2015 "Connected" section of The Vindicator newspaper.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.