Can Pats fans really handle the truth now?

This is, roughly, Day Seven of deflated footballs making national news. Now there's some kind of "league investigation" ongoing that feigns seriousness, but will surely drag beyond the Super Bowl because, well, the National Football League can't let anything ruin the week of upcoming parties.

Normally, I'm with Churchill when it comes to the pursuit of the truth. He once said, "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is."

Now, though, you wonder: Does the truth really matter anymore?

Because who hasn't made up their minds about the New England Patriots by now?

What did Belichick and Brady know and when did they know it? Irrelevant. Pope Francis could issue a statement declaring that some miscreant ball kid acted independently. Won't matter. The court of public opinion - filled with an alarming level of dimwits, admittedly - has rendered its decision.

The New England Patriots are a bunch of cheats.

Have been for quite some time.

The legacy, what there's left of it, has "yeah, but" attached to every accomplishment.

It's done. Over. And their fans, in and out of the media, and despite all their noteworthy persecution complexes, can bristle at it, try to ignore it, or bury their heads in the beachfront (put their heads in the sand). They'd pass the time better standing next to Sisyphus.

Nobody outside New England takes the Patriots seriously anymore.

And you know who's to blame for this?

The Genius himself.

His considerable acumen was never enough. He always has to be the smartest man in the room. And now he's been exposed. Again. Turns out that maybe Churchill was right after all: The truth is incontrovertible. Bill Belichick is a cheat.

Even the most ardent Patriot fanboys, in quieter moments, should ask themselves the following question: Are you really, truly sure Belichick has won anything of note with the Patriots without cheating? Spygate cost him $500,000. He never apologized. Hasn't won a Super Bowl since.

I got a text this week that pretty well summarizes Belichick's reputation around the league. A friend of mine got to spend a game on the sideline of an opponent recently at Gillette Stadium.

"I had to go to Providence the week of the game to meet with (the opposing team's) security," my friend wrote. "They told me that everyone in the traveling party must keep 'do not disturb' signs on their hotel room doors because Belichick has been known to hire housekeepers and room service staff to take pictures of playbooks in players' rooms."

I have no idea whether that's actually happened. Or whether it's lore and legend. Once again: Does it matter? That's his reputation. A cheat.

It's sad, really. Think about all the stigmas attached to many other multiple-time champions in sports. The Yankees buy everything. Notre Dame football and Duke basketball have scholars at every position. We have fun debating that stuff in gin mills and barber shops. But there's nothing worse in sports than being suspected of cheating, let alone getting caught doing it.

Just look at all the Hall of Fame candidates in baseball who are still candidates and not members. They're suspected of cheating. There's no evidence Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell took performance enhancing drugs. But there is suspicion. There's no evidence Belichick knew about deflated footballs. But there is suspicion, especially based on past performance.

All the other coaches in the history of the NFL who have won multiple championships - and the quarterbacks who have won with them - have been called many unflattering things. Lombardi, Noll, Landry, Walsh, Parcells and Coughlin. But none has ever been called a cheat.

The Patriots fandom can huff and puff about this until houses get blown down. Or deflated, in this case. There's nothing they can do about it. Your team has a stigma that's not going away until coach and quarterback retire.

So good luck, NFL, with your investigation. Devote all the manpower you'd like. It won't change anything. The Patriot Empire is a sham.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

Twitter: @BCgenius

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