The obvious point was to get Brady on record, so he can be hanged by his own words if the truth turns out to be against him. But the real purpose, the joy of the matter for the reporters, was to prod the handsome millionaire along though the familiar ritual of humiliation on national television. If he wasn’t going to provide Deflategate’s dramatic final act, then he could at least provide a little wish fulfillment, by making himself abject, or else ridiculous.

“This has raised a lot of uncomfortable conversations from people around this country who view you, a three-time Super Bowl champion and a two-time M.V.P., as their idol,” someone said. “The question they’re asking themselves is, ‘What’s up with our hero?’ So can you answer right now: Is Tom Brady a cheater?” This isn’t the kind of question that expects an answer it’s a timeless straw-man expression of fan populism—”Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Another reporter was more to the point: “A lot of fans are disappointed in the situation. For those, is this a moment where you should pause and say, whether it was by design or accidental, is this a moment to just say, ‘I’m sorry to the fans of the NFL and to the fans of Tom Brady’?” Again, no one watching had the slightest idea yet what Brady needed to be sorry for—you can’t hurry along the Oprah moment.

If Brady denied us the satisfaction of an apology, what he offered instead was his foolishness. And while some may take limitless satisfaction in rewatching clips of Tom Brady talking about balls, the joke of it became less and less funny as the tweets went on. Near the end, when Brady said, “Things are going to be fine—this isn’t ISIS,” you felt sorry for him. It was an odd and unthinking thing to say—and, owing to the jarring reminder of the state and weight of things, sorry for us all.​