The NFL’s Twitter account was hacked Tuesday, and New England Patriots fans (and some media) immediately reacted with a similar, predictable hot take: “See, Tom Brady was right not to turn over his cell phone!”
But relating the two issues — the Twitter hack and how the NFL might handle Brady’s sensitive personal information — is completely absurd. And to explain why, you need to understand the league’s organizational structure and how they intersect. I worked as NFL.com’s news editor from 2008 to 2013, so I’ll explain that.
The NFL has three offices, in Culver City, Calif. (NFL Media); Mount Laurel, N.J. (NFL Films) and, of course, New York (NFL HQ). The assumption by hot-take artists is the NFL Twitter account is run out of New York, by and with input from league officials, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually run by a three-person team in the NFL Media office, 2,800 miles away. Unless things have changed since my departure — and based on recent conversations with former colleagues, I don’t believe they have — no one in the New York office has access to that account, or any other social media accounts. What is tweeted (and how) is completely up to that social media team, without input or direction from league officials.
The same can be said about all of NFL Media, which operates independent from league HQ. In my five years at NFL.com, I never was asked to spike a sensitive story, and I even was encouraged to report on controversial information such as player arrests. I also never was handed inside information on big news, such as the collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2011 or Bountygate in 2012. In fact, NFL Media wasn’t even aware of the latter until the league dropped a Friday night press release. Just like every other media outlet.
It’s hard for outsiders to understand, but NFL Media, while funded by the league, isn’t run by league officials. It’s run by legitimate journalists who bust their tails and have to seek league comment on big stories, just like everyone else. Ian Rapoport and other NFL Media reporters work hard for the news tidbits they get. There is little to no spoon-feeding. And the league understood years ago — and still does — that to have a legit news operation, you need to report on stories that might make people at 345 Park Avenue a little uncomfortable.
All of this brings us back to the Brady situation. Had Brady turned over his phone to NFL investigators, I severely doubt it would’ve ended up in the hands of NFL Media and/or purposely leaked through league channels, as some Patriots fans claim. That’s bad business, not to mention against how NFL Media operates. Furthermore, someone hacking into the NFL’s Twitter account is much different than someone hacking into the league’s internal filing system, if indeed that’s where Brady’s information would be kept. No doubt someone would try, but there isn’t one instance of someone breaking through the NFL’s firewalls and pulling sensitive information from it.
That said, Brady had plenty of good reasons not to hand over his phone, other than cybersecurity worries. First, he wasn’t legally compelled to do so, and any good lawyer would tell Brady not to volunteer his phone. Second, text messages and emails often can be taken out of context — and you can argue the Wells Report did just that. Lastly, Ted Wells and his team had everything they needed from the two Patriots staffers’ texts and didn’t need Brady’s phone. Asking for the phone seemed to be a litmus test of Brady’s perceived guilt, and by not handing over his phone, he fed some people’s perception that he had done something wrong, just as the Twitter hack fed pro-Brady people’s perception that the NFL couldn’t protect his information.
Before I’m painted an NFL homer, let me say this: I believe the whole Deflategate drama is absurd and that the league pushed too far in its pursuit of punishment for Brady and the Patriots.
The NFL could have and should have used Deflategate to establish more clear-cut and strict protocol for measuring the pressure of footballs and left it at that. No fines. No suspensions. Nothing else.
Instead, we got 17 months of broken trust, court filings and wild speculation. Can we just be done with all this already?
Thumbnail photo via Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports Images
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