Deflategate Redux

Published: June 17, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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Since the ignominy of Richard Nixon’s attempt to bug Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel in 1972, the media likes to christen any high-profile scandal with the suffix “gate.” The simple fact is that the deflation of footballs can’t compare to the pervasive illegality of President Nixon’s actions that led to his resignation.


Nevertheless, Steve Ambra’s ethics class was tasked to act as ethics advisor to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and render an opinion on what many have dubbed Deflategate.

“Dear Roger,” Susan writes, “In terms of the ethical nature of this situation, I have to say that McNally, Jastremski, and Tom Brady acted… at the expense of the entire Patriots team, marring their own reputations, disappointing millions of loyal fans, and hurting opposing NFL teams…

“When an athlete steps onto the playing field, he or she should do so with a sense of pride… Based on the fact that cheating was involved, [the title, Super Bowl Champions] should not be theirs.”

“In order for fans to support a team,” writes Christin, “they must be able to trust that the players they cheer for are playing the game with honesty and integrity… The opposing team must also be able to trust that the game will be played in a way that allows both sides to showcase their strengths. Without a sense of trust, I don’t believe that any game or competition can occur fairly…

“As the ethics advisor,” Christin adds, “I would advise that more investigation be done to determine who the actual offenders were… It would be important for the players from both sides to regain trust and respect for one another. It would also be important for the fans and supporters to regain their trust and admiration for the team.”

“The pursuit of excellence and self-restraint were both violated in the actions by the Patriots,” writes Margaux. “Tom [Brady] should be suspended for a minimum of one game and fined… $ 1 million going to the NFL Foundation. The equipment staff involved… should also be let go without severance or further contact with the team.

“The Patriots,” Margaux concludes, “are a multi-championship-winning team. They’re good, there’s no arguing that, but did they really need to cheat to get one more win?”

However, another student, Darren, offers a different assessment, beginning with the conclusion from the Wells Report.

“ ‘Based on the evidence developed in connection with the investigation and summarized in this report, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the NFL Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate attempt to circumvent those rules.’

“What I take away from that sentence,” Darren points out, “is that they ‘believe’ that the attendants are guilty, but do not have actual, solid evidence proving their guilt. Without a full confession, video footage, or audio that confirms or denies what happened in the locker room bathroom, it is ethically wrong to punish the men. It is unfair, disrespectful, and irresponsible to make any kind of punishment for what the Wells investigation ‘believed’ to have happened.

“The Wells investigation also believes that Tom Brady was somehow involved and knew about what the two assistants were doing. The investigation claimed, ‘…Brady’s refusal to provide us with his own e-mails, text messages and phone records on relevant topics, in response to our narrowly tailored requests, limited the evidence available for our review and analysis.’

“Even with the limited evidence about Brady’s involvement, the report said, ‘Based on the evidence, we also have concluded that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski…’ Either Tom Brady is guilty or not guilty,” Darren concludes. “Just because the Wells investigation ‘believes’ they knew something does not promote the fact that he is guilty, plain and simple… If I were the full-time ethics advisor to Roger Goodell, I would have highly advised that he drop the charges against the Patriots. It is unfair and unethical to Tom Brady and the Patriots to punish them due to an investigative report that ‘believes’ they were involved.”

However, it was Susan’s additional suggestion to Goodell concerning the larger issue that caught my attention.

“The sports industry,” Susan writes, “puts tremendous pressure on its players to perform well in order to continue making the incredible profits that it makes. Perhaps, another day, we can discuss the components of the NFL that may lead players, teams, coaches, etc. to feel compelled and justified to cheat.”

The pressure to win is the elephant in the room in sports, as confirmed again by the latest story in The New York Times (June 16).

“The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors are investigating whether front-office officials for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past two decades, hacked into internal networks of a rival team to steal closely guarded information about player personnel.”

Welcome to Hackgate.


  1. Bottom line: pressure and money will always cause people to test their morals and ethics.

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