If Americans needed more proof – again – that it is dangerous to confuse professional athletes with heroes or even role models, then Tom Brady may yet perform a useful service.
It is possible, certainly, for an athlete to be a good role model, but not because of his profession, which renders him just as prone to venality as any other human – especially those humans whose wealth and success can be dramatically influenced by breaking rules. That’s the lesson Brady offers to the world, following the persuasive investigation of the matter of deflated footballs used by the New England Patriots in last season’s AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The investigation shows that two Patriots employees deflated the balls after league officials cleared the balls for use. Worse, they showed that quarterback Brady likely knew about it and likely lied about it. What is more, the conduct is of a sort that sports fans have come to expect from the Patriots, for whom rules seem little more than a hindrance to be ignored at will.
The league responded forcefully this week, suspending Brady for the first four games of the coming season, fining the team $1 million and taking away a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-round choice in 2017. On Friday, Brady appealed the punishment. He should drop it. What is already terrible for him – not to mention the team and the sport – he can only make worse. It’s time to own up and set a new course.
The team is already vying with the 1919 Chicago White Sox for the title of most despicable sport team. The White Sox scandal was about fixing the World Series. The Patriot scandal was about cheating your way into the Super Bowl. One is not so much different from the other in its greedy and unsportsmanlike intentions.
What is more, does anyone really think that this is the first time Brady and others in the Patriots organization deflated balls for the team’s advantage? It’s a rare thing to get caught the first time you break the rules. More likely, this is just the first time Brady got caught.
The other reason to own up to the cheating is to spare the two Patriots workers who actually deflated the balls from absorbing the worst of the punishment. They were indefinitely suspended, without real hope for reinstatement.
Their only chance for a less severe punishment is if Brady admits his role. If he knew about the deflated balls, as the investigation clearly suggests, then it is hard to imagine that the two workers were acting solely on their own initiative. Some greater balance would be nice.
Still, the punishments, hard as they are, suit the offense. Professional sport is of no value if competitors don’t follow rules meant to ensure that the contests are about skill rather than fraud. What the Patriots committed was fraud, and that will follow the team forever.