Ruthless mob “Godfather” Michael Corleone had lied to the fictional Congressional committee investigating organized crime. The smoking gun witness who had cut a deal to destroy Michael’s fake stance as a persecuted patriot and honest businessman had just been intimidated into recanting, seeing his older brother sitting with his targets and knowing that if he betrays the Family, his brother’s head would end up in his bed. So lies and corruption have triumphed, and as the scene from “Godfather Part II” fades, Michael Corleone’s lawyer, Tom Hagen, is shouting over the gavel and the crowd noise, to the disgusted and defeated Committee chair,
“SENATOR! SENATOR! This committee owes an apology, this committee owes an apology — an apology Senator!”
This memorable scene was immediately what my mind was jerked back to when I read New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft’s defiant statement regarding his team’s latest cheating scandal, in the section where he said…
“If the Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the League would apologize to our entire team and in particular, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week. I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation.”
I see now from a brief Googling of “Tom Hagen Robert Kraft” that I was not alone, and no wonder. Kraft’s guys have stonewalled, denied, mocked, deflected, tap-danced, and allowed loyal ethics-challenged sportswriters, bloggers and fans to block for them. Belichick and Brady almost certainly have covered their tracks sufficiently to avoid their just desserts, and Kraft is demanding an apology when it is he who should be apologizing—to the NFL, to opposing teams, to New England, to Boston, and to the fans, for allowing a corrupt and unethical culture to flourish under his ownership. Has any criminal, having avoided conviction because he or she could not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, had the chutzpah to demand an apology from the prosecution? Did Casey Anthony or O.J., as despicable as they are, dare to rub society’s nose in their triumph like that?
Let me be clear. When Belichick was caught stealing signals with an illegal sideline camera in 2007, Kraft knew, if he didn’t already, that he had a very talented coach who would break rules to win. He adopted the Kings Pass: Belichick was too good, too important, to hold to the standards of ethical conduct that mere mortals in the sport must abide by. When the investigation into the New England coach’s sideline videotaping revealed that Belichick had been cheating this way all along, Kraft should have acted notwithstanding the coach’s “I didn’t know it was against the rules” protestations, and dismissed him. Instead, he signed him to a rich, long-term contract. Belichick got the message, and so did the team: “Do what you have to do to win, just don’t get caught.”
As with the previous cheating (and who knows what the Patriots have gotten away with in the interim?), it is likely that the team has been playing with deflated balls for a while. If it wasn’t specifically ordered by Belichick or Brady, it was certainly not the brainstorm of a “rogue ballboy,” as the NFL appears ready to announce. Just as Henry II’s knights didn’t have to be ordered to murder Thomas Beckett, having heard their king muse on whether anyone would rid him of “this troublesome monk,” neither the ball boy, or the equipment manager, Bellichick’s son, or Brady, needed to be told explicitly what their leader, indeed leaders, including Kraft, wanted.
Do I know this is what happened? Can I prove it? No. This is, however, how organizations become corrupt and rot, and how the unethical leaders that rot them behave. Bellichick’s denials of knowledge and responsibility are typical; Brady’s resort to trivializing the offense (“It’s not ISIS”) is typical; and Kraft’s pugnacious “the best defense is an offense” is typical. The unethical culture on the Patriots will continue to fester and metastasize until it becomes undeniable even to the team’s enablers, and Kraft’s ego gratification toy is destroyed. The only question is how long the process will take.
Addendum: Here is what I wrote about the earlier cheating scandal in 2007:
If the Patriots want to stand for sportsmanship and fairness over win-at-any-cost, it should fire Belichik now.Yes, doing this will undoubtedly wreck the Pats season, but that should be irrelevant. Does Kraft’s team believe in fair play, or not? Does it want to send the message to its young fans, many of whom are contemplating various forms of cheating in their schoolwork, that breaking rules to reach unearned goals is just a matter of doing a risk-benefit analysis, or the message that cheating is intolerable because it is just plain wrong?