The Tom Brady deflategate scandal opens up some of the largest issues in sports. We all expect our players to do everything in their power to win games. We reward those who push the rules and celebrate when our players play dirty. Offensive linemen, for example, are expected to break the rules. When we hear referees hand out penalties for holding, we just roll our eyes and hope that the player manages not to get caught next time. Steelers fans celebrated Hines Ward for being voted the dirtiest player in 2009.
Of course, pushing rules and playing dirty are not synonymous with cheating. But do we really condemn cheaters? Sammy Sosa was caught swinging with a corked bat. After a lengthy investigation, the MLB determined that no one really cared and the nation moved on. If Sosa’s legacy is tarnished, it’s not by much. Sosa stands as one of the great homerun hitters of the steroid era.
The MLB reflects the public’s general consensus toward cheating. While we openly state that we detest those who cheat to get ahead, we’re less concerned when it’s our players.
This brings us back to Tom Brady. The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that he had actual knowledge of the equipment managers deflating the footballs. His involvement was more than just a passive knowledge; he took actions to ensure that his footballs were a little easier to catch. He broke the rules and cheated.
What punishment does his crime merit? Should he pay a fine? Should he be suspended? If a suspension is due, then how many games should he sit out? Since there is no precedent for this kind of equipment tampering in the NFL, it’s hard to say how the punishment will shake out.
Perhaps we should thank Mr. Brady for reopening a national dialogue over cheating in professional sports. Should we vilify an athlete for using steroids if the only thing separating him from the big league is size and strength? With the amount of money on the line the professional sports, it’s a very rational decision to use performance enhancing drugs to compete at the highest levels. These athletes have families to provide for. Is it fair for us to exclude those with the coordination, talent, and willpower to compete yet lack a few genetic advantages?
If advocating for steroids makes you uncomfortable, then should we come down harder on cheaters? If we really believe that professional sports should only include the demigods among us lucky enough to refine our skills to a superhuman level, then shouldn’t we come down like thunder on Tom Brady?
Tom Brady’s scandal holds a mirror up to American sports. If we care about the integrity of the game then we need to punish him harshly for skirting around the rules. If the old adage of “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’” governs our sports, then we should slap him on the wrist and move forward.
This scandal merits draconian punishment. Tom Brady willfully manipulated equipment to secure an unfair advantage over the competition. This scandal, combined with the Patriots’ longstanding history of bending the rules, reflects an institutional problem. They’re cheaters up there. It’s obvious at this point that the Patriots are permitted to get away with a lot because they’re a popular organization.
Sports represent the best in humanity. We compete in structured games with each other for entertainment. Rather than bickering over politics, nationalism, or religion, we choose to push our bodies to extremes in order to win games. This is a fantastic human development. Competition brings out the best in us. We owe it to ourselves to maintain the integrity of competition.
The danger of letting Mr. Brady off the hook is that we further cheapen athletic professionalism. We fans deserve better.