Research & Insights

By Justin Tenuto, February 2, 2015

#Deflategate Was Just a Chance for Us to Make Some Really Bad Jokes


While most of today will spent breathlessly kvetching over the play calling of 9/11 truther Pete Carroll, it’s worth remembering we spent the last two weeks fretting over footballs that were kinda-sorta not quite inflated enough. We were treated to hours of coverage about the NFL’s tome-sized rule book, the credentials of America’s most fraudulent ballboy, and our two most famous pop scientists explaining how or how not a ball might deflate depending on a whole host of factors nobody dreamed they would ever care about. And while the game gave us a brief respite from the scandal, don’t think the story’s going away. America loves football too much to stop talking about, well, footballs.

Which is why we spent the weekend trying to get to the bottom of what we actually think about this whole deflategate kerfuffle. Sure, it led nightly news programs the day the Saudi head of state passed away, but we honestly still don’t know much. “Some footballs weren’t inflated” is the sum total of our knowledge. Who did what and when they did it are still mostly unknowns.

So we decided to go to Twitter and check the sentiment around #deflategate. What we found was that people just wanted to make jokes about balls.


How We Did It

First, we checked the hashtag tracking website Topsy for the dates with the most #deflategate chatter. Then, we scraped Twitter for tweets with that hashtag and set up a sentiment analysis job. The thinking was that while we knew the scandal was getting a lot of press, no one really seemed to know what the football-watching public actually thought. By enriching the social data, we tried to work that out.

Our Teenage Boy Sense of Humor

The verdict? Well, it would be too much to say “nobody cares.” People obviously do. There were thousands of tweets calling the Patriots “cheaters” and plenty of hourly news updates. And with the media stoking the story in the weeks leading up, you can rest assured the story won’t just suddenly go away. But football fans at large seemed to look at the whole scandal and treat it with the seriousness of an armpit fart noise.

Look at that graph again. Nearly 50% of all #deflategate tweets were jokes that would make Fozzie Bear cry.


The next most common sentiment was simply: no one cares. It’s worth noting a lot of these users pointed out that in a year when football was mired in scandals like child abuse and domestic violence, they seemed to take this particular fiasco more seriously than both of those combined.

And then you get the folks that called the Patriots cheaters. And there were plenty, don’t get us wrong. That’s what happens when you’re an organization that’s played fast and loose with the rules for a decade or so. Of the people who actually wrote about whether or not the whole #deflategate ordeal amounted to purposeful chicanery, nearly twice as many thought the Pats cheated as defended them.

But, again, that wasn’t what surprised us. Sports fans, after all, are fairly partisan and will take whatever chance they get to lambast a successful team or a rival or, heaven forbid, a successful rival. What surprised us is that with all the air-time and column inches and blistering hot takes in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, we basically decided that #deflategate gave us the excuse to break out our choicest balls-related double entendre. Or that we didn’t care about it in the first place.

Image credit: Chaparral Football Home Opener by COD Newsroom. Licensed under CC BY 2.0