Having dinner at my favorite local restaurant recently, I’m scanning the menu when a server recognizes me as a fellow Boston fan. She approaches the table and shouts, “Go Patriots!”
She then remembers what I do and quickly adds, “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT!”
Completely nonplussed, I ask, “Hear about what?”
“The deflated balls,” she says. “I don’t want to hear what you’re going to say about the deflated footballs.”
Well guess what, Shannon, now you can read what I have to say. (Feel free to bury your head in your replica #12 Tom Brady jersey.)
Much has been written and spoken about the latest controversy surrounding the New England Patriots football team. In case you’ve been in an isolation booth for the last 12 days, the Patriots won the AFC Championship in a blow-out game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday January 18th sending them to this Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX. That’s the good news.
The bad news: after the game, referees discovered that 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots supplied for the game were found to be under the league limit of inflation.
The question under investigation: Did the Patriots cheat?
Quarterback Brady: “I think I’ve heard it all at this point… Oh, God. It’s ridiculous. That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.”
Coach Belichick: “I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation until Monday morning… I can tell you that in my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure. That is not a subject that I have ever brought up.”
While Brady appears a bit cavalier in his response, this is not Belichick’s first time at the cheaters rodeo. In September, 2007, Belichick was fined $500,000, the maximum under NFL rules, and the Patriots had to pay $250,000 for spying on an opponent’s defensive signals. In a letter to the Patriots at that time, Commissioner Roger Goodell said “This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field,” Goodell said in a letter to the Patriots.”
While an under-inflated football clearly violates NFL rules, I kept wondering: does it really create a significant advantage?
“An underinflated or deflated ball,” The Washington Post reports (Jan. 20), “would be easier to grip, which would have been advantageous in the pouring rain Sunday night. Tom Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception, in the Patriots’ 45-7 crushing of the Colts and LeGarrette Blount had 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns.”
While the NFL has an ongoing investigation into the matter, Public Policy Polling (Jan. 27), found that “Americans think the Patriots cheated in the AFC Championship game- and they’re rooting for the Seahawks on Sunday- but in some ways their poll numbers haven’t fallen that far because the Patriots weren’t all that popular to begin with.
“Overall 41% of voters think the Patriots cheated last week to only 27% who think they didn’t, and among self described NFL fans- still 64% of voters even after this tumultuous season- it’s a 50/28 spread that think the Pats cheated. Democrats (46/23) overwhelmingly think New England cheated while Republicans (36/33) are much more divided on the matter. Bill Belichick has a 28/41 favorability rating among NFL fans, compared to 37/16 for Pete Carroll. And the Patriots as a team overall have a 36/43 favorability rating with fans, making them one of only two teams we tested (the Cowboys at 40/42 being the other) with a net negative rating.”
While the circumstances, indeed, look suspicious, and Belichick’s record of infractions only adds more to that suspicion, the ethical thing to do for now is to wait and see what the investigation finds. We also need to understand that in spite of the rules in sports and life, there will always be liars, cheaters and thieves – individuals who are always looking to game the system. The challenge for the ethical person is to maintain their ideals in spite of the cynicism that says, “Everybody does it.”
Public Policy Polling, however, identifies one bright spot for this Sunday’s Super Bowl. “Katy Perry as Sunday’s halftime act gets generally positive reviews. Americans give Perry a 37/20 favorability rating, and by a 37/23 spread say she’s a good choice for the halftime show.”
So we can all put away the torches and pitchforks unless or until a guilty verdict comes in.
See Shannon, my comments about “deflate-gate” were not what you might have expected… for now.