If a player enters an elevator with his girlfriend, punches her in the face, then knocks her out and drags her by the hair out into a hotel corridor, the NFL considers that the incident merits a two-game suspension, as in the case of Ray Rice, running back for the Baltimore Ravens. But if your team confabulates to deflate balls during football games, this merits a four-game suspension if you are Tom Brady.
If you are Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and take a switch to your 4-year old boy, and whip him in his arms, legs and buttocks until he bleeds, the NFL will bench you for a season with a scolding letter (“you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct”), and then reinstate you. But if you play for the New England Patriots and do not participate willingly in NFL investigations, your team will be fined $1M and future draft picks.
If you make the above comparisons, you will be told that they are not valid. After all, what are a beaten woman and an abused child when compared to the “integrity” of the game of football, and the sense of “fair play” that must exist so we can place our bets and play our fantasy leagues? We can summon infinite amounts of righteous indignation when our games are threatened.
This is the background that preceded Tom Brady’s Deflategate press conference, just before the Super Bowl. Summoned by a media Inquisition to appear and declare whether he had contracted with the devil, Brady showed up in sweats and woolen cap to a makeshift tribunal. Only a master trickster could have achieved the resounding impact of the characterization he proposed of Deflategate. After taking a number of questions from the vulpine sports press he responded—emulating Christ answering eager Pharisees—with a simple statement: “This isn’t ISIS. No one’s dying.” This send-up brought a giant measure of perspective and common sense to the press event—but only for those who had ears to hear.
Before Brady’s press conference Bill Belichick had entertained the press, the NFL and the nation with a mad scientist routine from a B horror movie. The deflation of the footballs was the result of the weather, of atmospherics, and a natural consequence of the laws of physics. Belichick, to be sure, was making fun of us. Brady’s dopey smile, a few days later, covered up the soul of a ruthless trickster, who spares no effort in shattering our norms and expectations.
Many pundits are declaring that the brand of Brady, Belichick and the Patriots has been tarnished, that their legacy has been diminished, and that the stench of their crimes will follow them to their graves. I highly doubt this. I believe Deflategate will be an amusing asterisk in Tom Brady’s imposing career; that Belichick will be remembered and deeply admired as an evil genius of the game—a sort of Darth Vader who left no stone unturned in order to win.
As for the NFL, it will be remembered as the bigoted organization which stood silent while it allowed one of its flagship teams—Washington—to perpetuate a heinous and racist slur, but fined the New England Patriots $1 million for Deflategate.
What price integrity?
I was already an admirer of Belichick, but am now a rabid Tom Brady fan. I am prepared to cheer him through next season, his planned appeals and his future lawsuits against the NFL. I will also be cheering ravenously for the Patriots next year—except when they play my Oakland Raiders (now there’s a team that always plays clean!).
I say nothing about the Arizona Cardinals.