As a born Bostonian, proud of the Hub’s tradition of elevating the nation’s ethical sensitivities, the spectacle of the old city’s football fans embarrassing themselves out of loyalty to a home town quarterback who doesn’t deserve it is nauseating. As a recent New York Times feature gruesomely illustrates, Tom Brady’s complicity in a successful cheat to get the New England Patriots into the Super Bowl has corrupted the usually reliable ethical values of this iconic city.
The information coming out of the NFL is that Brady’s cheating, lying about it, refusing to cooperate with the league’s investigation and—I hope this is taken into consideration—his smirking attitude about the incident since the results of the investigation were announced will get him suspended for 6-8 games. Think of it: Boston has been so corrupted by its sports star that it is now less ethically sensitive than Roger Goodell.
Now that’s corruption.
But as I have written here many times, that’s how heroes can ruin cultural values. It is why you must choose them with care, and be ready to jettison them quickly. It is the power of cognitive dissonance and the scale’s ability to rot our values without us even realizing it:
Tom Brady is at the top of the scale, maybe not a 10, but at least an 8. Well below the neutral mid-point was cheating, even in the academic center that is Boston, where cheating by students has become epidemic. (The city’s tolerance of cheating was initially increased when a cheating Kennedy, Ted, required that shift in order to be elected Senator.) Let’s say BI—“Before Inflategate”—it stood at -6. The pioneer of cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger, posited that our minds have to resolve such dissonance: we can’t simultaneously have a strongly positive view of an individual who engages in behavior we rate so negatively. Thus the values of both Brady and cheating must change to resolve the dissonance. Brady falls, but cheating rises, and because he is more popular than cheating is reviled, now cheating, at least in professional sports for Boston teams, is in positive territory. Cheating in anything and everything else may not quite be in positive figures (yet) but it somehow doesn’t seem as bad as it once did.
That right: Tom Brady just got Hillary Clinton some votes.
Brady has validated cheating for Bostonian football fans, just as Bill Clinton made adultery more palatable to Democrats, just as George W. Bush made torture seem reasonable to Republicans, just as Barack Obama has taken the sting out of lying for African-Americans. Hillary has given influence peddling, if not a good, then a at least a better name. Woody Allen has been a boon to the self-image of incestuous fathers. Roman Polanski made statutory rape (which, Whoopie explained, isn’t “rape rape”) respectable in Hollywood. Floyd Merriweather and Ray Rice gave domestic abuse a PR boost among boxing and NFL fans.
Has Bill Cosby made sexual assault a little less repugnant to his throng? You bet it has.
It’s not villains who rot our ethics. It’s the flawed and untrustworthy heroes who abuse their power, choosing to make us worse human beings instead of better ones.
UPDATE: The League suspended Brady for four games, fined the Pats a million bucks, and took away two draft choices. I would have liked to see the team’s 2014 championship stripped too, but this in no slap on the wrist. It makes the right statement.
10 thoughts on “Beware of Heroes: Why Tom Brady Is An Ethics Corrupter”
Mmmm, I think the fault is as much ours for looking past the flaws of the heroes we choose because we love what we stand for more. In Turkey today you can be jailed if you mention some of the less savory aspects of Kemal Ataturk’s life, like alcoholism, the fact he looked the other way on the Armenian genocide, etc. I had a screaming fight with an Irish colleague when I dared say that Michael Collins helped set the pattern and tactics for later terrorist groups and that the IRA, or elements of it, made common cause with enemies of America. We’re not even talking loud exchange of ideas, we’re talking he told me to leave before I got punched out. Criticize Obama in front of a black colleague? Do you tire of your job so much you are LOOKING to get fired?
PS, I never had much respect for Boston since the Boston Irish kept putting Ted (D-Hell) back in the Senate, so their fierce loyalty to a local football hero comes as no surprise. It’s not even worth trying to have a discussion with people when their loyalty to someone or some cause has reached “trigger” level.
The Kennedy obsession, idolizing an entire family of misogynists and sociopaths, is in the category of an illness in Massachusetts. The two assassinations locked it in” martyrs are so high on the scale that they can pull up conduct from the very bottom with nary a dip.
Damn straight it is, and it isn’t limited to MA, Irish-Americans far and wide lionize them. OK, I’ll give a nod to Joe Jr. as a WW2 guy who died in the service of his country, and to in-law William Cavendish, also killed in WW2, but that’s it. I also wouldn’t call either Jack or RFK martyrs. To me a martyr is someone who gives his life for a cause or a principle: Michael Murphy, who deliberately exposed himself to enemy gunfire to save the rest of his team, or those recently beheaded on the coast of Libya because they would not give up their faith, those were martyrs. The two brothers were, when all’s said and done, victims of terrible crimes, but they were not killed because of a principle or for what they stood for – they were killed by unbalanced people. MLK, on the other hand, would qualify, since he was killed for what he stood for and what he was doing.
Without a shred of ethics, a repeated cheat who lies with a smile on his face. The worst of the worst as an “example” for children.
Saw that “interview”. Couldn’t tell if he was drunk, stoned are had one too many concussions. That glued on smile was frightening.
Suddenly, almost half the people I know have loudly espoused cheating to get ahead in life, many going so far as to proclaim only fools wouldn’t. Disappointing.
Whenever anyone questions why athletics is place in such a prominent place in our educational system, they are inevitably told that sports teaches valuable lessons about leadership, hard work, and loyalty. Now, I agree it does teach lessons about those things, but they are not ones that I want taught. It teaches some people to be leaders of a group of bullies, and other people to be unquestionably loyal. It teaches children that some people are better than others and that there are rules for the few and rules for the many. It teaches children that winning is what is important, at any cost. It tells students that it is who you are, not what you do or what you know, that is important.
We have learned all these lessons well.
an update .
Great post Jack. You are at the top of your game with this one.