Pittsburgh_sign_(2981919088)The day after Championship Sunday, football fans were talking about “Deflategate.” By Thursday night the story was the lead on our local news and we don’t even have an NFL team.

If nothing else, the US takes our sports seriously. Football, which had so recently ascended to the top of the heap, replacing baseball as America’s game, has been struggling. 2014 was the year of disaster for the NFL, but the problems went back further.

What was it, 2007 when Spygate dominated the talk shows? New England (yes, the same team involved in this year’s debacle) broke NFL rules by filming an opposing team’s sideline during a game as their coaches sent signals to their players. A big deal? Most people didn’t think so, but it was against league rules.

Then in 2012 the New Orleans Saints were caught in the bounty scandal. Reportedly as many as 24 defensive players were paid for hard hits on opposing quarterbacks. The head coach, Sean Payton, received the stiffest penalty—a year’s suspension—because he knew about the program and did nothing to stop it.

A number of pundits, however, claimed that most teams had some similar program in place, but the Saints were the ones caught, and the League wanted to send a message to the others by the harsh sanctions.

Need I mention the Ray Rice mess that took place this past summer—domestic violence caught on camera, and the League suspended him for two weeks. When cries of protest arose, then Commissioner Roger Godell backtracked and handed down a tougher penalty. But when another video came out, the longer suspension was turned into an indefinite suspension, which Ray Rice contested, and won.

Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson came under fire because he took a switch to his young son. He received the full wrath of the commissioner’s office—they weren’t going to pull another Ray Rice.

Once the season got started, things seemed to quiet down—only a few drug suspensions, the $70,000 Ndamukong Suh fine for stepping on Aaron Rogers, purposefully—just average stuff.

But now, with deflategate, we’re back to the issue of cheating, specifically the charge that someone on New England’s sideline deflated the game footballs in the AFC Championship, reducing the pressure by two pounds in 11 of the 12 game balls. Under inflated footballs. The way Tom Brady likes it.

Is this really such a horrible crime, fans ask, especially those hoping for a Patriot Super Bowl victory. I mean, no one got clocked on camera, no pictures exist of bruising on a child’s body. No money exchanged hands at the expense of purposeful bodily harm. And no one was intentionally stepped on. What’s the big deal?

Add in the fact that no one thinks the Colts would have own the game if those balls had been properly inflated. In other words, the Pats cheated, but they would have won anyway.

So does that make cheating, not cheating?

And is cheating a big deal?

Well, in some schools, if you cheat you get kicked out. What if the NFL adopted that policy? If you cheat—take performance enhancing drugs, spy on the opponent, put a bounty on another player’s head, deflate footballs—you get kicked out of the League.

Which would elevate cheating to a level higher than domestic violence.

It’s not really an easy thing to determine. On one hand, we have a tendency to say, It’s just a game. Lighten up. But the reality is, pro football is big business. Not only are the players contracted for huge sums of money, the teams are raking in the green with their ticket prices and all that goes with attending games. Then there’s the league with all the merchandising and TV deals. And then we come to the real money connected to the sport: gambling. As my brother reminded me, millions of dollars are tied to NFL games, sometimes on the over-under of game scores. What have deflated balls (because who knows if the Pat’s quarterback would cheat in the Championship game, he hasn’t been cheating all season?) done to the scores and to the win/loss of millions of bettors?

But let’s pretend for a second that cheating didn’t cost anybody anything. It just gave one team a slight edge which they didn’t need anyway.

Is there really nothing wrong with them sending the message to every kid out there, Do anything, even break the rules, in order to win.

We’ve been sending that message for some time. Al Davis, when he coached the Oakland Raiders, used to say, Just win, baby. His teams did all they could, including things that weren’t legal, to win games. In fact, some of the rules the NFL has now were put in to stop some of the shenanigans the Raiders pulled (like fumble the ball forward or bat it forward to get the necessary yards for a first down, or to score a touchdown).

And now it’s the Patriots. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, no matter what happens afterward, the message will be clear—cheaters do prosper.

But we’ve been sending that message through other avenues than sports—corporate greed, for example, and government corruption. CEOs can lead their companies into bankruptcy and still collect million dollar bonuses. Lobbyists can bribe, uh grease the palms, no give payola, how about, gift legislators who they wish to influence, and the process is “legal.”

Maybe it’s time we say enough with the cheating. People need to play fair. Hard work, not hard cash or who you know or how much you can get by with, should enable someone to get ahead.

So I say, throw the book at the Patriots. They have a history of cheating and of walking as close to the line as they can get when it comes to playing by the rules. Just ask Baltimore about the six eligible receivers stunt the Patriots pulled the week before deflategate.

Cheaters ought not prosper, and if the NFL commissioner’s office doesn’t see that and doesn’t take action, more than “the integrity of the game” will be lost.

Published in: on January 23, 2015 at 6:28 pm  Comments Off on Deflategate  
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