Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cheat To Win: The Patriots

On September 9, 2007, the Patriots routed the New York Jets 38-14 in their season opener. During the course of the game, the Patriots were caught filming the Jets' defensive signals. On Tuesday, September 11, the NFL determined this to be a violation of league rules. The win still counts.

Here's what Patriots owner Robert Kraft had to say while awaiting the NFL's decision regarding the tapes:

"We worked very hard to try to put an organization together that we all could be proud of in New England, and we're very proud of the New England Patriots organization and the record that they've established over the last 13 seasons and one game."

The "one game" he's talking about is the one where his team was caught cheating. Apparently, he's proud of that, too.

The penalty? A wrist-slap.

Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, which is more than the NFL has ever fined a coach. However, even if they collect it all at once, his salary for this year will still be over $2 million. To put this into perspective, after getting fined, he will be making over $38,000 per week, even in the summer.

"No problem," I'd say privately to my friends, were I in his shoes.

The Patriots organization was fined half the amount and they will lose at least one draft pick next season. If they make the playoffs, they will lose their first round pick - if they don't, they lose their second and third picks. Translation: in the event that cheating didn't help them enough this season to get to the playoffs, they still get to make a selection in the first round of the draft. Quite a cordial penalty, indeed.

Let's use our imagination for a moment. Imagine it's first and ten, the Jets and Patriots are lined up. It's the Jets' ball. Now, imagine one of the Patriots' defensive lineman rushing across the line of scrimmage and sacking Chad Pennington before the snap. A ref blows the whistle and fines the lineman a few thousand dollars - play immediately continues at the point of the tackle. Second down, fifteen yards to go.

The NFL is now a place where cheaters can keep the win. The Patriots, under the leadership of Bill Belichick, cheated and were caught, yet remain "undefeated" at the time of this writing. In a 16-game season, how can their record stand if at least one of those games was invalidated by foul play? Pete Rose, the greatest hitter Major League Baseball has ever seen, was banned from baseball and denied his opportunity to enter the Hall of Fame because he broke the rules. Barry Bonds, the man who hit more home runs than anyone, will have an asterisk placed on the record-breaking ball - only because of the speculation that he may have cheated. Why are the Patriots getting off so easily?

Most people familiar with the NFL will say that reading the opponents' signals is common or will guess that the tapes couldn't have given much of an advantage. I say it only takes one point to win a game, and I say a win doesn't mean anything in a game without integrity. This is football, not Reality TV.

The NFL's actions regarding this incident are socially irresponsible in that they are doing more to defend their bank account and their star club than they are doing to defend their traditional values of sportsmanship and professional conduct. "Of course they don't care about morals," my inner voice tells me. "Morals and millions don't mix."

I say we change that.

We live in a time when large organizations can publicly display their corruption simply because they can get away with it, and we're letting them get away with it by resigning ourselves to be only spectators. They are turning a profit on our own complacency. Sound familiar? Somebody call John Madden, football's going the way of the Bush Administration.