Deflategate's ridiculous, empty moralizing
The New England Patriots are the Yankees of the NFL. Winning three Super Bowls and 12 AFC East titles in 14 years tends to make a team eminently hateable. So, too, does being led by a sulking, joyless heel like Bill Belichick.
So naturally, the unfolding scandal about the team's alleged use of underinflated footballs during Sunday's AFC Championship obliteration of the Colts — since dubbed "Deflategate" or "Ballghazi" — sparked a torrent of indignation. And over the past week, the outrage machine has belched out the hottest of hot takes about #Belicheat and his morally bankrupt Pats.
Except the supposed cheating scandal is a total nothingburger fueled only by the two-week dead space between the last playoff game and the Super Bowl and by an overinflated sense of the supposed sanctity of sports. The result: A smoldering dumpster fire of inane moralizing.
It should go without saying that screwing with footballs is not tantamount to an institutional cover-up of serial sexual abuse of children. Then you read things like this:
NFL has a Paterno problem w/Belichick. Biggest coaching giant is a moral Pygmy. http://t.co/i4rAbJRdaz
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) January 21, 2015
So let's add some context.
This is about as weak as sports scandals get. All teams, all quarterbacks, doctor footballs to their liking. Eli Manning's game balls take months to scuff up just right. Aaron Rodgers inflates his as much as possible. Brad Johnson, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2002, claimed he paid a couple of guys $7,500 to secretly scuff up the footballs used in the championship game.
Like doctoring baseballs, the practice of tinkering with pigskins is widespread and commonly accepted as just something everyone does. The only rule: Don't get caught.
Which is why it's so maddening, though unsurprising, that Deflategate has been overblown into a morality play. (Patriots bad; football good.) This includes everything from the pompous self-flagellation of the diehard Boston sports fan, to the hollow whining of the local beat reporter. A representative example:
For all the Patriots playoff games this year, my sons and I have all donned our No. 12 Tom Brady jerseys. We wore them because Brady is so darn good, so darn handsome and so full of the values of hard work and perseverance that you want your sports icons to embody. Or so we thought. Did he have any knowledge or any involvement in deflating footballs? Oh God, I hope not. [CNN]
Not the children! Won't somebody please think of the children? How can you explain to them that Touchdown Tommy is not an infallible hero "full of values," but rather an actual human being? Never mind that he ditched his pregnant ex for a super model, or that he's an unrepentant shill for Uggs. How do you explain that he may have — gasp! — bent an unwritten rule to his advantage during a game?
All the pearl-clutching is even more galling when you consider we're talking about the NFL here. This is a sport where dudes ravage their brains and bodies in between Bud Light commercials, all for a league that is comically indifferent to violence both on and off the field. Deflating a few footballs is hardly on the same moral plane as, say, domestic abuse and a front office coverup of it.
It's not like there are no weightier ethical dilemmas surrounding the NFL right now either. Days before the Deflategate game, Colts linebacker Josh McNary was charged with rape. Hours before the game, in the NFC Championship, the Seahawks appeared to skimp on the league-mandated concussion protocol after a violent hit to QB Russell Wilson. In a more general sense, if this really is about ethics in gaming and not just an excuse for blowhards to engage in some hollow posturing, how about addressing the fact that the Seahawks lead the NFL in PED suspensions — you know, actual cheating.
Given the Patriots' villain status and history of circumventing the rule book, it's understandable that Deflatgate would balloon into a major issue ahead of the Super Bowl. But that does not mean the story should be accompanied by overwrought ravings about how, to quote one insane screed, "Winning without honor, without integrity, is not winning."
So go on, hop off that high horse and tell your kids about Deflategate. Get it out of the way now before all the vacuous postmortem columns that are sure to follow the Super Bowl.