(by Howard Portnoy, Liberty Unyielding) -- Fool me once, and all that. In case you’re not a football fan and/or keeping up with the latest scandal to rock professional sports, the New England Patriots have been caught once again with their collective hand in the cookie jar. The team had “help” in its rout of the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, propelling the team to another Super Bowl and a chance for quarterback Tom Brady to earn a coveted fourth ring. Saying the team had help is a nice way of saying they cheated.
The team was caught cheating in 2007 by secretly videotaping New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals from a sideline location. That indiscretion, largely overlooked by league Commissioner Roger Goodell, who ordered the videos destroyed, was filed in sports history books under the nickname Spygate. This time around, the dereliction — which involved deflating the team-provided footballs to below league standards to make them easier for the Patriots to handle in inclement weather — is being called “Deflategate.” This time, the league appears not to be blinking.
Defenders, meaning the team’s fans, are protesting that both teams had the same advantage, but that’s not entirely true. Inflating the balls to two pounds less than the league specified 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, as New England did, changes the weight and feel of the ball. CBS, moreover, uncovered an interview given by Tom Brady in 2011 in which he expressed a preference for deflated footballs. Said Brady:
[W]hen Gronk [tight end Rob Gronkowski] scores … he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball. I love that, because I like the deflated ball. [Emphasis added]
Fans also argue that the victory was so lopsided — New England defeated Indianapolis 45 to 7 — that any deception that might have given the home team an edge is beside the point. But that argument begs the question of whether it’s ever OK to condone cheating.
The commentary that has flooded in is interesting. Team owner Robert Kraft was quoted by NBC Sports as having told head coach Bill Belichick that he was “a real schmuck” for his role in Spygate. Even more compelling is a column by Boston Globe sportswriter and team booster Dan Shaughnessy titled “Win or lose, Patriots have sacrificed legacy.”
Some opinion-makers, including Chris Chase, who has a column this morning at USA Today, argue that New England should be disqualified from the Super Bowl. That’s far easier said than done. There is no such thing as “runner-up” to a conference championship, and, even if there were, the margin by which the Colts lost strongly suggests they would be the wrong first recipient for that not-before-bestowed honor. Cancelling the big game is an impractical option because huge sums of money have already been promised or changed hands in preparation for the year’s most watched media event.
What will happen? Stay tuned.