A Ball Problem
If you’re not a Rants Army Regular, you might have clicked this because the current issue surrounding the New England Patriots ‘deflategate’ story is still hot. To be honest, that story figures into this topic, but I have to admit that as much as I dislike the Patriots in general and Tom Brady in particular, this blog post isn’t exclusively about this hater’s hating hate.
Anyone not living under a rock knows of the allegations that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in their thrashing of the Colts in the conference championships. Some of you readers may be tempted to remind me that the sport ought to properly be called “Handegg,” but please don’t be a troll. Anyway, the building drama over last weekend’s game centers on 11 of the 12 Patriots-provided balls being under-inflated by as much as two pounds (per square inch). Bill Belicheck, the head coach, denies any knowledge of this. The referees for the game duly checked the balls before the game. Yet, during the game, the Colts intercepted Brady and noticed the football didn’t feel right.
The NFL will look into this, and I’m guessing they might impose some fines and stuff. Nothing too extreme, of course, and nothing handed down from on high before the Super Bowl. Argue if you will, but the fact remains that the balls were correctly inflated before the game and at halftime. Also, if weather is considered, the Colts’ game balls should have been equally low. Finally, the one person who ought to have noticed the soggy footballs snap after snap is the one who stood to benefit from their under-inflation the most. Coincidence?
Personally, I don’t give a damn one way or the other about this particular problem. What I do give a damn about is a bit bigger, so let’s widen our scope and recall a short list of NFL failures:
Michael Vick: Dog fighting anyone? He did time out by me in Kansas for a while, but will forever be remembered for this failure of character.
Bountygate: The New Orleans Saints’ secret employee bonus program.
Big Ben’s Big Fists: The Steelers’ QB was disciplined for sexual assault by the NFL.
Spygate: The Patriots’ effort to use a spy decoder ring for everyone else’s playbook calls from the sidelines.
Fists of Fury: The NFL had to reverse itself on their stance about his KO of then-fiancée caught on film in an elevator.
Deflategate Part 1: The Buccaneers QB admitted to deflating game balls in their defeat of the Raiders in the Super Bowl.
You can look at this short list sort of like a highlight reel of the NFL’s most embarrassing moments, because there are others. Some of these are individual crimes, some are team-wide violations. Some reflect misconduct separate from the sport, the team, and the NFL while others speak directly to the root problem I’m complaining about here.
I see that the NFL has a problem here, and that problem is one of culture. The two deflategate incidents noted here speak to a culture of willful and intentional breaking of rules. It points to a culture that believes the benefits of an action – even if discovered – far outweigh the penalties the NFL might impose. It is a culture where cheating is better than playing it straight and following the rules means to the exact word and not the spirit of the rules.
I believe the secondary effect manifests itself in the off-the-field lives of the players. Individuals surrounded by a culture of rule-breaking I believe are far more apt to force their unwanted attention on a woman, or to flagrantly violate the law because it’s fun and profitable, or to tune their girlfriend up in an elevator. The culture facilitates the behavior.
This pisses me off for more than one reason. I love football but I hate watching it because I don’t observe anything that indicates pro football is played for the sheer love of the sport anymore. Everything comes down to the bottom line, a dollar. Our Super Bowl is now known as much for the (admittedly awesome) commercials shown, the cost of those ads, and the accidental skin of the halftime shows as it is for the game, the players or the winner.
More disturbing to me is the far-reaching impact this kind of stupidity has. There are kids today who idolize sports figures, and for good reason. Each and every player, coach, official and NFL owner ought to keep that in mind. Their faulty culture can – and will – spread beyond the stadiums, locker rooms and boardrooms of those who like making a buck from a cut corner and flouted rule. Unfortunately I see more talk about my first point of anger than this one in the media.
That fact doesn’t surprise me a bit, though. Why would anyone in the mainstream media want to point out how inexplicably successful but undeniably profitable “reality” television is when the corporations who peddle that schlock also own the news organs that report sports stories? They wouldn’t, of course, because money is money and screw the youngsters out there absorbing the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo… apparently there’s a difference there, but I can’t see one.
What those who govern and steer the NFL should worry about is exactly what makes reality television so damn hard to watch. Sports fans want to see a real competition, where the outcome of a game viewed in-person isn’t known until the end of the 4th quarter. To me, it’s a straight and easy line from “sports” to “staged event according to script.”
And how sad would it be if someday people actually mocked football like they do pro wrestling?