Cheaters Do Win

When I was a small boy back in the Dark Ages one of the bromides I was fed over and over is that “cheaters don’t win.” I believed it as did most of my playmates. But as I have grown older (and more cynical) I have come to realize that cheaters do win. Not only in sports, but also in business and in politics. In fact, it is now considered naive to think that cheating doesn’t win. Success is measured in wins and losses, not how the game is played, as I had been taught.

A recent obvious example is the New England Patriots who are notorious cheaters and who also have one of the most glittering records in all of professional football. They were caught filming their opponents’ practices and deflating footballs so their quarterback could get a better grip on the ball, especially in wet weather. Most recently, after they beat Dallas on Sunday Night Football, Tommy Jackson — a former Denver Bronco linebacker and now a prominent talking head on ESPN — was praising New England for the “subtleties” in their game plan that allows them to win. He was speaking about a play that New England likes to run in which one receiver “picks” off the defender of another receiver thereby allowing the latter to run free and be open for an easy reception. It’s against the rules and New England was penalized twice for it in this particular game. But, Jackson noted, if they run the play ten times and get caught twice that means they are successful eight times. That is one of the subtleties that Jackson admires about the Patriots.

In that same game we were able to watch Greg Hardy, recently back from a four-game suspension for domestic violence against his then girl-friend — whom he hit repeatedly and then threw onto a futon covered with assault weapons. He was found guilty by the courts and the NFL suspended him four games for his actions. Tsk Tsk. Prior to the game he told reporters he would be back “with guns blazing,” an unfortunate choice of words  — words which were echoed by owner Jerry Jones in his delight over having Hardy back on the football field and on his beloved team. In that same interview, after saying that he only wanted to talk about football, Hardy openly “admired” Tom Brady’s beautiful wife whom he “hoped would be at the game, along with her sister.” Terry Bradshaw, bless his soul, excoriated both Hardy and Jones for their remarks and for the fact that the NFL would allow such a player to continue to play football. And his voice was joined by a few others, one of whom pointed out the glaring inconsistency in which the players wear pink to support breast cancer research and yet are involved in so many domestic violence cases. But, on the whole, the football world is happy the man is back “with guns blazing.” He is an amazing football player. But the evidence suggests that he is a horrible person.

Now, Hardy is a cheater with a capital “C.” And he is not only immensely successful, he is also a very wealthy man — though we tend to equate the two things in this culture. New England won the game despite the fact (because of the fact?) that they employed a plan that involved a beach of the rules. Cheating does win.

I am not naive. I know cheating has always gone on in this imperfect world. And cheaters are often, if not always, successful. Shit happens. But one would like to think that more people like Terry Bradshaw would speak out against the practice when it is well known to happen and fewer talking heads like Tommy Jackson would sit before the TV cameras and drool over the New England Patriots and Tom Brady while they speak with admiration about the “subtleties” of a game plan that allows a team to be successful because it knowingly employs tactics that are a breach of the rules of the game.

Cheaters As Heroes

I have blogged before about America’s poor choices when it comes to picking people to call “heroic,” but the situation doesn’t seem to have changed. I would have thought my posts would have done the trick, but apparently not. So we will take another crack at it.

Our choices are especially odd when it comes to our sports heroes, and that’s where most of our heroes can be found — in sweaty locker rooms and beating up their wives. We also indiscriminately refer to every soldier who ever wore camouflage as a “hero,” whether they ever did anything but serve slop in the cafeteria at boot camp. Anyway, the recent case of Pete Rose is worth pondering as he was given a “prolonged” standing ovation in Cincinnati prior to this year’s All Star game.

Rose, of course, played for the Cincinnati Reds for years where he was known as “Charlie Hustle,” and he seemed to be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame until it was revealed that he had gambled on baseball games. He was banned from baseball and could no longer be considered a candidate for the Hall of Fame. He continued for years to insist that he had not gambled on the games in which he played and has appealed his situation in order to once again become eligible for the Hall. Then it was revealed on ESPN, complete with graphic evidence, that he had, indeed, gambled on the games he had played in and was therefore guilty of lying in addition to breaking the rules of the game he claimed to love — and assuredly played very well.

And yet, he was given a standing ovation by the thousands of fans who recently attended the Hall of Fame game in Cincinnati. Puzzling.

And then there’s the case of Tom Brady who allegedly lied about any involvement in the infamous (and seemingly trivial) “deflate gate.” Every professional quarterback interviewed after the scandal insisted that any quarterback would know instantly if the balls he was throwing were over or under-inflated. ESPN even had a retired quarterback throw three balls on camera, one under inflated, one over inflated, and the third properly inflated. He picked out each ball correctly after only one throw. The evidence is overwhelming that Tom Brady knew the balls he was playing with were not regulation. He may not have ordered them to be so, though that seems unlikely, but he insisted he knew nothing about the incident, which is highly improbable. In a process in which Brady refused to cooperate, the NFL ruled against him and suspended him for four games. He is appealing, as is the NFL Player’s Association, and the punishment may well be reduced, perhaps to a fine. But in the eyes of an adoring public he has always been innocent and remains the hero of many a young would-be football hero, even though he almost certainly lied. Puzzling.

And, of course, there is the case of Tiger Woods who is from all reports guilty of repeatedly cheating on this wife and, after an ugly divorce, underwent therapy to try to calm down his racing libido. Yet he remains ever-present on the television and his appearance at a golf tournament immediately increases revenue through attendance and television audiences — despite the fact that, truth be told, he is yesterday’s news. We try these folks in the court of public opinion and we often do not know all the facts. That’s certainly the case. But when the evidence is made public there is little room for doubt and only a strange form of denial can allow us to continue to regard these folks as exemplary, the kind of people we would like our kids to grow up to be. Puzzling.

And yet the court of public opinion can be nasty as well, and perfectly willing to find a man or woman guilty of heinous crimes without the benefit of due process — as in the case of Bill Cosby, who reportedly drugged women and then raped them. But then, Cosby wasn’t an athlete — at least not a professional athlete. And he is probably not even on the radar of the millennialists who weren’t born when he was one of the funniest men around, making millions of dollars on television.  Yet, again, he wasn’t an athlete; perhaps that’s the key. We want our heroes to be famous and rich athletes — even if they are known to be cheaters. Puzzling.

Deflate-gate

Unless perhaps you live in Ecuador, where such trivial incidents are rightly ignored, you have probably been aware of the controversy surrounding the footballs used in the AFC Championship by the New England Patriots. Eleven of the twelve footballs used in the game were found to be under-inflated by about two pounds, making them easier for the quarterback, who selects the balls before each game, to grip and throw, especially in wet and cold conditions. Each team uses its own footballs, so this apparently gave New England an edge — though they clearly didn’t need one, stomping the Indianapolis Colts in the game by some forty points.

In any event, there has been endless discussion about the incident, making the Super Bowl itself a bit of a sideshow while pundits discuss endlessly the pros-and cons of what they like to call “deflate-gate.” In itself, it’s a tempest in a teapot, but  it became interesting when both the coach and the quarterback denied any knowledge of the fact that the balls used were below the pressure specified by NFL rules. Most experts, including a number of former professional quarterbacks, admit that the coach might not know about the balls, but they all agree that the quarterback must have known, because he handles each ball before the game to make sure it is as he likes it. In a word, the issue has now shifted to the more interesting moral question: who’s lying? It appears to be Tom Brady, the New England quarterback. Indeed, according to many, it must be.

I recall an experiment conducted by a writer for Sports Illustrated years ago with Rod Laver, possibly the best tennis player to have ever lifted a racket. Laver told the reporter that he could detect any changes to his rackets and the reporter challenged him to a test. The reporter placed a small piece of lead tape weighing less than half an ounce on the frame of one of Laver’s rackets and, blindfolded, Laver picked it out of a group of a half-dozen. His rackets were his livelihood. He knew exactly how heavy each one had to be and how tight the strings were as well. Similarly, Brady knew full well that the balls he was using were to his exact specifications. And those specifications were under the limits set by the NFL. But things don’t stop there.

Soon after Brady’s press conference where he denied any knowledge of the fact that rules were broken (no matter how trivial they seem to us) ESPN took a nation-wide poll and it revealed that the vast majority of fans in every state, except Nebraska(!), believe that Brady is telling the truth. Seriously? Is it possible that the majority of people in this country are that blind? It appears so — assuming that the poll was a reliable indicator. Despite the testimony of a number of people of unquestioned credibility, including John Madden, whom fans have always loved and trusted, the majority of people believe that the only man who could be responsible is, in their minds, not responsible. Which now takes us to the next stage of the issue, namely, the stupidity of the average American football fan.

This is therefore no longer about footballs and whether or not they meet NFL specifications. It’s about the willingness of vast numbers of people in this country to believe what they want to believe and ignore the facts that have been clearly set before them. Brady is the only one who could have under-inflated those balls — or had someone do it for him. But this fact does not penetrate the minds of those who cannot open them. Please consider that these are the same people who vote on our next president and the members of Congress. In my mind, that is what makes this issue especially disturbing. It’s not about football. It’s about the inability or unwillingness of so many people to see beyond what they want to see.