Unethical Quote of the Month: Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady

Disappointed kid

“This isn’t ISIS. No one’s dying.”

–New England Quarterback Tom Brady, in the course of denying culpability in the latest New England Patriots cheating scandal.

Tom Brady now joins the Ethics Alarms Rationalization Spouter’s Hall of Fame, which I just started. You just can’t embody Rationalization #22, Comparative Virtue, or “It’s not the worst thing” any better than this obnoxious attempt to minimize the significance of Deflategate.

That’s the way to teach the kids to be fair competitors and good citizens, Tom! And does a star athlete whose attitude regarding cheating in his profession amounts to this fill you with trust in his integrity, honesty, and sportsmanship?

Not me.

23 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Month: Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady

  1. I wouldn’t have said what Brady said, if I were him. I hope that I would have said, “People who want to uphold that rigid rule about inflation pressure in the game balls are on the wrong side of history.” Deflategate was civil disobedience, nothing more.

  2. In a way, Brady has a point, but it’s not what he thinks it is, and it doesn’t cut in his favor. In the grand scheme of things, nothing that happens on the field of play is very important. In fact, most of the rules of sports are arbitrary — the location of the free throw line, the number of bases the runners have to tag, the pressure in the football. The rules don’t have any higher meaning. And that’s precisely why there’s no excuse for not following them.

    The big issues — when you can disconnect the life support, when a cop can shoot an unarmed person, when the President can order a drone strike — are full of complications and nuance. It’s hard to come up with a clear set of rules that will apply in every possible situation. You may think you have it all figured out, and then a scenario arises that you never thought of, and your simple set of rules, if followed blindly to the letter, would produce a terrible result. So maybe after you think through all the consequences, you decide that you’ve found a valid exception, and you change the rules. Or maybe, if the matter is important enough and you believe the rules are immoral, you break the rules as an act of conscience.

    But I can’t see that happening much in sports. There is no greater good that could be used to justify breaking the rules. What terrible result could arise from blindly following the rules of football to the letter? A team loses a game? That might cost the team a bit of money, and I can see where crazed fans would get upset, but you know what? Nobody dies if the Patriots don’t make the playoff. This isn’t ISIS after all.

    • “There is no greater good that could be used to justify breaking the rules.”

      Bull crap. The NFL isn’t just a sport, a fun team game for players. It’s a business, a damned big business, and the business is entertainment. Scoring entertains. Circus catches entertain. Quarterbacks who can put their throws on target, consistently and spectacularly, entertain. Using game balls that enable points to be scored spins the turnstiles and puts asses in seats – asses with fanatical interest and big money, and with no more complicated a desire to be entertained than to see their favorite team “just win, baby.” Rules change because they become recognized as stupid – counter-productive to the business. It logically follows that non-following of stupid rules often predates their being changed – like guys suddenly showing up to play rock-and-roll music with hair long enough to cover their ears. Ed Sullivan and Longhair-gate. Right.

      Liberalized rules on inflation pressures in game balls are overdue, and bigger than Brady, Belichick, the Patriots, or the upcoming Super Bowl. I suppose next, we’ll hear bitching about “illegal” helmets or pads, which happen to be constructed innovatively to enhance players’ safety.

      • Winning football games, though, is a zero sum game. So I think Windy;s greater good arguments holds up. YOUR good (or Tom Brady’s) isn’t society’s good. I’ll agree that if breaking the rule could save football, an argument could be made that it was for the greater good. (I’d dispute it, since I think football is affirmatively harmful to society).

      • To your last point, player safety would certainly be a greater good, and you could argue that it’s acceptable for teams to quietly adopt equipment and practices that improve safety, even if not technically allowed by the rules. I also think that in amateur sports involving children you could argue that some rules can be broken in unusual situations to advance the larger goals and values of teaching children good sportsmanship.

        I’m not so sure that entertainment is quite such an overriding concern. And to the extent that cheating is part of the entertainment, isn’t it also entertaining to see cheaters get caught? We’re certainly enjoying it here.

        • I am enjoying our discussion of the specific actions we are considering as cheating. Yet, I don’t feel I am being entertained, either by the discussion or the controversy.

          It’s only my personal perspective, but no, I can’t consider as entertainment seeing cheaters getting caught, even if an event is specifically designed to entertain in such a case. But, I can certainly and easily admit how one may be entertained by seeing cheaters get caught. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I prefer that no one cheat…so that there is no one TO be caught…but, if there is cheating, while I may be glad when a cheater gets caught, my gladness is something other than being entertained.

          I obviously do not accept the premise that underinflated game balls must necessarily constitute cheating. In my way of looking at things, if a particular rule appears to be, or is, enforced inconsistently, arbitrarily or selectively, it’s a virtual non-existent rule – at least, deserving to be regarded as such, even before officially considering changing it.

          If something was going on with ball inflation which I did accept is, or may be, cheating, I’m sure I would feel the same disappointment and disgust that Jack and others have expressed. In fact, in my very first comment on this topic (in an earlier post and thread), initially I was thinking right along with Jack. I asked out loud what I thought were common-sense leading questions about Brady’s ability to know when he was handling an underinflated ball, and about Belichick’s accountability despite no involvement in what at least appeared to be a deliberate rule violation. But then, after thinking about the situation some more, my perception of and judgment about the situation changed.

          I definitely reject what you said earlier: “In the grand scheme of things, nothing that happens on the field of play is very important.” BwOH-ho-ho Boy! Would I enjoy hearing General Patton or General MacArthur tear into you for saying THAT!

          Perhaps one reason why I am more sure than you that entertainment is an overriding concern is because in the NFL, the performance of featured performers (like Tom Brady) is crucial to the potential and actual entertainment value derived. Brady’s fans want to see him complete 38 of 40 passes for 5 touchdowns with no interceptions. Other fans, who are interested in Brady’s performance falling short so that Brady’s opponent wins, might be satisfied with seeing him complete only 24 of 35 passes for 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions, even if he is not sacked once. Whether Brady’s team wins by cheating or loses despite cheating, the entertainment value of the game – this particular impending Super Bowl – depends to a large extent on his performance. That’s one reason why the NFL, for as long as it is the business it is today, will never escape struggling with, and even sometimes shamelessly invoking, The King’s Pass – or something akin to it, as we possibly observed (I am not sure) with Michael Sam.

      • I think that one of the ideas behind rules in games, especially ones that appear completely arbitrary and useless, is to eliminate variables that would give a team an unfair advantage. Skill should be what it’s all about, to me. If they don’t serve that end, or they don’t enhance safety, then I agree they should be dispensed with.

  3. I think Brady could have done a much better job at denying culpability. Here are some suggestions of what he should have said.

    “Hey…it’s not like Ted Bundy is on the loose.”

    “Well…we aren’t the ones going around killing innocent, unarmed, black teenagers.”

    “I like my footballs like I like my women…a little on the thin side. Have you seen my wife? She’s a size 0. Do you see anything wrong with that? Didn’t think so. I rest my case.”

  4. Did anyone else apply emphasis to the wrong syllables the first time they read “deflategate”, creating an awkward 4 syllable word that sounds more akin to bodily functions than the 3 syllable word it was meant to be???

    Oh, and I don’t even see how anyone could be so dumb as to say what Tom Brady said. It’s not like it was even a well hidden Comparative Virtue that needed serious exposition.

    In fact “This isn’t ISIS. No one’s dying.” is literally only one step away from the abstracted definition of Comparative virtue “This isn’t a worse thing.” Exchange “worse thing” for “ISIS”.

  5. This whole affair causes me great angst, in that I love the Patriots like Jack loves the Red Sox.

    Football is a dirty business. Always has been. Certain aspects of the game – example, the Ravens crying foul two weeks ago on a lineup they didn’t expect and didn’t recognize – are part of the deception that’s inherent in the game. Much of the game is about deception, which shouldn’t be surprising; football touches primal aspects of our psyches. Most sports are based upon the fight-or-flight response, and football embraces both.

    So-called “Spygate” bothered me, but not for the usual reasons: most seasoned observers would argue that most – if not all – teams engaged in similar shenanigans; the Patriots were just more blatant about it. The more I learn about “deflategate,” the more convinced I am that history repeats. I’m not giving the Patriots a pass on this, but it’s ludicrous that the NFL allows players to bring their own balls. In baseball, the umps prep the balls. Hockey pucks are kept in a freezer by the refs. Tennis players can bring their own rackets, but who supplies the balls?

    In golf, players have endorsement deals on balls. That’s okay; they’re required to conform to certain standards. Baseball pitchers who doctor a ball exist, but it’s hard to do.

    In football, each team preps its game balls to the quarterback’s preference. That’s an open invitation for manipulation – and cheating. It has happened before – just not like this.

    I’m disgusted by what’s going on. But not surprised. NO excuses for the Patriots, but the NFL should have been a LOT smarter than this.

    Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time they should have been a lot smarter…

    • After all of what you said there, along with what I have said a bit earlier here, I will add only that I remain less interested in Super Bowl XLIX than in most previous ones, in part because of the ball-inflation controversy.

  6. Frankly, I think the sport is stupidly regulated in any case. We have a rule about how much to inflate a football, so that it is harder to catch. But there is, apparently, no rule for helmets that will prevent a concussion in a head-to-head collision. I know, there is a rule banning head-to-heads, but note that they still happen any way. It would make more sense to me to define the basic shape of the game, then make the vast majority of the rules address player safety, not what metal your cleats are made of.

  7. There was an interesting poll conducted this morning on ESPN’s morning show Mike & Mike. The question was: “Who do you believe after Thursday’s press conferences?”


    Belichick 9%
    Brady 3%
    Both 27%
    Neither 61%

    I don’t think any of the sports analysts or quarterbacks I have heard believe Brady’s statement that he didn’t feel any difference between the deflated balls and regular balls.

    This case reminds me to some degree of the Watergate break-in. Nixon was always going to win big in that election. There was absolutely no need for the break-in nor did it actually yield any results. Nonetheless, it was a crime and a criminal conspiracy and so was the cover-up, which ended up bringing down Nixon’s presidency.

    The Patriots had no need for any extra advantages to beat the Colts, nor did these deflated balls apparently make much difference. However, it is still cheating to attempt to gain a competitive advantage. It needs a severe punishment, in my opinion.

  8. Tom Brady’s ISIS comment is spot on in one regard, which I will get to in a minute…*

    But first, Tom Brady is a man paid millions of dollars to take the rules of football seriously. When accused of cheating, his response is to break out laughing, saying “Well, now I’ve heard everything”, playing coy language; “Are you a cheater?” – “I don’t tink so!” (sticking his pinking to the corner of his mouth) – but carefully not actually denying that he cheated. If he hadn’t cheated, he should have the dignity to address to deny the allegations solemnly as an affront to his dignity. Even on the off chance that his team or team’s staff cheated without his knowledge (he is Tom “freak’n” Brady, so unlikely), he should still respond solemnly, as it would be a failure of his leadership that allowed such a move. All his laughter shows, to those paying attention, is that it is literally only the millions that motivate him, whether he personally followed the rules or not.

    *(I am so tempted to make a comparison Between Tom Brady’s laughter and Bill Cosby’s appropriately solemn silence when asked if about the alleged druggings and assaults on NPR, but seriously football is neither rape, nor ISIS, even factoring in the brain damage.)

  9. All this talk of balls has me really chafed, and I’m crabby enough as it is. I’m tempted to say, “what’s the big hairy deal? Why sweat this?” Still, I understand why people don’t want their balls touched, and it probably just and right that Brady should be sac’d for doing so, but the NFL will probably just dangle more money in front of him.

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