Deflategate: Why it matters

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I have heard quite a few people recently say, “Why is there so much coverage of defategate? Can we get back to real news?”

What I would like to know is why so many people don’t see this as real news. The NFL currently generates about $10 billion per season, and have hopes to increase that revenue to $25 billion by 2027. The New England Patriots currently generate about $428 million and are valued at $2.6 billion. I would say that when a team is valued at that price, allegations of cheating is news.

In the movie Office Space the characters justified the use of rounding errors by stating they were just taking 1/10th of a penny from the world’s largest take a penny tray, but doing it millions of times. That’s really more akin to cheating in football. It’s just deflating the balls by a couple of pounds. No big deal, right?

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, the bonus for each player on the winning team will be in the neighborhood of $100,000. Quite a bit more than the average NFL fan makes in a year. But yeah … we’re cool with that.

In 2008 when we saw our banking system on the verge of collapse, we saw that as real news. We felt that the executives in many of these institutions were cheating. What also got many people upset, is when they saw the salaries many of these CEOs were making. But we don’t have any problem with professional athletes making similar salaries or in many instances making more than these CEOs. Tom Brady is in the second year of a 5 year/$70 million contract, and if he is found to be cheating there should be similar outrage. But there won’t be.

Did the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl because their balls were slightly under inflated? We’ll never know. Do I think this is the first time they’ve played with under inflated balls? No. Do I think Tom Brady was aware the footballs were under inflated? I most certainly do. He’s a professional, likely Hall of Fame quarterback. Chris Simms noted earlier this week he liked his footballs a certain way, and could easily tell if a football was over inflated or under inflated by picking it up. If Chris Simms, a perennial backup QB, can tell by picking a ball up, than I am sure a Hall of Fame quality QB can.

So why do I care? Since you are reading this on a website related to a Baltimore based website, the obvious first thought is that I am a bitter Ravens fan. I can’t say there isn’t some truth to that. When the Baltimore Ravens played the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs I suspect that the balls were at similar levels of inflation (or deflation) during the game. It’s been reported that the Ravens tipped the Colts off to this practice prior to their matchup with the Patriots in the AFC Championship. During the Ravens-Patriots game the Patriots were able to overcome a 14-point deficit twice using a masterful passing attack, and some deep analysis of the rule book. In the second half of that game the Patriots passed on every single down, not even handing it to the running back once.

Throughout the course of the game the Patriots had 3 fumbles. One was on a kickoff return, so it was using a Baltimore K ball, but the other two were on standard offensive plays. The interesting thing about each of these plays was that the ball in each instance was recovered at the same yard line it was fumbled. It is also important to note, that the last fumble was overturned after a replay, but it still doesn’t changed how the ball is bouncing. If you’ve ever dropped a football, you know that it is a squirrelly beast. It bounces and rolls in weird ways. When Joe Flacco fumbled the ball on the Ravens 15 yard line, it was recovered 11 yards away at the Ravens 4 yard line. Sack-fumbles usually travel further than when a running back or receiver fumbles, but 11 yards versus 0 is significant. Do I think the distance the ball traveled during a fumble is why the Ravens lost? No. It’s just an interesting point.

The Real Point

Here is what really makes me angry about deflategate. This morning, my 7-year old son was asking me questions about deflategate.

He was asking me if the Patriots cheated. I told him that was a complicated question to answer, but it seems likely that they did. Then he asked what kind of punishment there will be. I try to be honest with him, even with these difficult to answer questions. I told him there would likely be no consequences for the Patriots or Tom Brady.

He didn’t really understand that. Frankly, neither do I. But I explained to him, that sometimes in life if you make a whole lot of money for someone, sometimes that person doesn’t care how you did it. This is a difficult lesson to share with such a young child, and he did not like that answer at all. He is a very righteous boy, and doesn’t like cheating. I don’t really like explaining the dirtier parts of life, but it is important that he know, that not all success is achieved fairly.

The bottom line for why this is important is not because of money. It’s not because of the outcome of a game. It’s because we are showing our children that not only can you get away with cheating, that you can achieve great success while doing it.

I challenge Roger Goodell to prove me wrong, show my son that there are consequences for cheating. I don’t know what the punishment should be for this, but I hope it’s something more tangible than a fine. The best possible punishment that I’ve heard so far would be to force the Patriots to be the featured teams in the annual HBO disaster that is Hard Knocks – for the next two seasons at least.