When it comes to cheating in sports, some people ascribe to the theory “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’”.
Other people operate on the theory that if you have to cheat to win, you don’t really win.
This topic hit the forefront of the sports world this week with news the National Football League thinks the New England Patriots kinda, sorta cheated when they won the American Football Conference championship game against the Indianapolis Colts last year.
They kind of cheated their way to their dominating 45-7 win over the Colts that led to the Super Bowl championship over the Seattle Seahawks. They kind of cheated by playing with footballs that were slightly deflated enough to allow quarterback Tom Brady to better grip the ball, and for receivers to better catch the ball, in the cold weather of December in Foxboro, Mass. where the Patriots play.
Almost six months after the fact, the NFL investigation determined that, maybe, two locker room and equipment attendants deflated the balls below regulation inflation. The report concludes that quarterback Tom Brady kinda, sorta, endorsed the plan. The report did not state that any of this actually took place, because they can’t prove that, but it did suggest that it is very likely to have happened.
Everybody wants to know if this taints the legacy of Brady in any way. After all, he is the poster boy for quarterback success in the NFL, a good looking guy married to one of the most beautiful women in the world, with four titles to his name. He has an image that can be tainted, and this might put a slight burn on the edges of that image.
But what bothers me is the taint it puts on the game of football. This one moment won’t have any resounding effect, but it raises the question of how much cheating goes on in all sports, not just professional football.
There is cheating and then there is gamesmanship. Athletes in all sports get away with little pushes and shoves, playing around the edges of the rules. But whenever the rules violation becomes visible to the naked eye, it becomes national news.
George Brett’s pine tar bat (which supposedly allowed him to make better contact at the plate), Jason Kidd’s soda bump in an NBA playoff game last season (which forced a timeout that allowed him to get his team together when he had run out of official timeouts) or the cooking spray used on football jerseys (to make them harder to hold on to) are all examples of rules that have been nudged out of the way.
But then there is gamesmanship, like the hidden ball trick in baseball. In the NBA, there is the flaying one does when taking a shot to indicate that the shooter has somehow been assaulted as he tried to shoot even though there appears to be no one around to do the assaulting.
Or how about the most flagrant gamesmanship, the dive, originally popularized and vilified in soccer and now annoyingly utilized throughout the NBA to the benefit of no one.
Referees and umpires can’t see everything and thus don’t catch everything. Teams and coaches and players are considered smart to take advantage of that fact, when in fact they are cheating the game, their opponents and the fans when they don’t play the game straight up.
The saying we teach our children – “Cheaters never win” – gets knocked down a peg every time we become aware that a cheater did in fact win. The Patriots now have a long history of cheating in order to take advantage of the product of their cheat.
The fact is our current NFL champion is a team that cheats. Whether the effect of deflated footballs on a game won by 38 can certainly be questioned, the effect of the report that the Patriots resorted to such chicanery can only hurt.
Not Brady, of course. But others.