So, New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, in line with his team’s history of cheating to get an edge on opponents, allegedly orchestrated the deflation of game footballs below the league’s mandated minimum in last year’s American Football Conference Championship between his team and the Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots won that game by a blowout and went on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. On Monday, the league came down hard on Brady and the Patriots — leveling a fine of $1 million, taking away two draft picks and suspending Brady for four games.
Not surprisingly, New England fans are in an uproar over (in their minds) the league’s unjust penalties, while other sports fans across the country, many of whom have had their hearts broken and their team’s ambition crushed by the Patriots, are jumping with glee over what they believe to be proper comeuppance for a team with a history of cheating.
Others, like Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, had already given his verdict on the incident.
“Let me tell you this, Bob Kraft (Patriots owner), he was less than ethical to the state of Connecticut,” LePage said in January.
“(Coach Bill) Belichick was less than ethical to the New York Jets. He was certainly unethical when they took photographs from the sidelines, stealing signals … What else are you going to expect? They have a track record.”
Whoa now, governor. I will let the fans on both sides have their say, but I won’t entertain anyone trying to frame this so-called “Deflategate” as some bigger commentary on life - that perhaps it signals the erosion of honor, honesty and integrity in sports.
Sure, ethics and morality would be a concern if we were talking about amateur sports, and even that would be a stretch if you include college basketball. But professional sports have become pure theater. Professional athletes are entertainers whose priorities are primarily money and glory.
Professional athletes and their teams worry about integrity only when their money is in jeopardy, such as when Baltimore Ravens star running back, Ray Rice, in trying to salvage his football career, went into counseling and married his girlfriend after he had knocked her out cold in an elevator.
Rice will probably be back in business pretty soon, just like how star baseball player Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is being cheered this year at Yankee Stadium and is on track to add millions to his already bloated contract after being suspended all of last season for cheating — using performance-enhancing substances in order to gain an edge on his competitors.
Baseball slugger Mark McGwire, who used steroids to boost his fame, income and the popularity of Major League Baseball, declined to come clean when he was called in front of a congressional hearing in 2005. He only did so later in order to continue his career as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. He is currently the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In life, a teacher who cheats, either for herself or for her students, loses her job at the minimum. If she works in Atlanta she is likely to end up in jail for years. In professional sports, a player like Brady who cheats and lies about it is heartily defended and protected by his fans and the owner of his team.
“Tom Brady has our unconditional support,” said Mr. Kraft, chairman and CEO of the Patriots.
“Our belief in him has not wavered,” he said. And, why would it? His team is valued at around $2.6 billion, and Brady, who makes $26.5 million a year and has an estimated net worth of $120 million, is a big force behind that valuation.
In life, we honor our veterans from the heart, at professional football stadiums the bestowing of that honor is based on how much the military is willing to pay, which according to a New Jersey Star-Ledger report, ranges from about $60,000 to $1 million to get teams to salute “hometown heroes” at the start of football games.
So, if you are inclined to equate sports with real life, please don’t. Let’s not attach any ethical or moral relevance to Deflate Gate, and please refrain from criticizing New England fans for standing up for their main man Brady. They know full well that you don’t cheer cheaters in life, but pro football is not life - it’s theater.
Personally, I can’t wait to see what is in store for us when the curtain rises on next season’s production of the Wily Patriots and the Image-Sensitive-to-a-Fault National Football League.
Clive McFarlane is a columnist for The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.