The NFL surprised me a little yesterday—but pleasantly— by hitting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his team with something approaching an appropriately tough penalty for cheating in a playoff game, lying about it, obstructing the NFL’s investigations, and then acting as if the whole mess was a joke. The NFL suspended Brady for four games, stripped the Patriots of their first-round draft pick in 2017 and a fourth-round pick as well, and fined the team $1 million for Brady’s “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL” and for “failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation.”
Exactly. It wasn’t the infraction alone that made this serious; it was the suggestion, magnified by Brady’s smug attitude, that cheating in an NFL play-off game is no big deal and nothing to be upset or ashamed about. The team also had to be punished, in part because cheating has long been the Patriots’ MO, and the team’s continued success at winning championships, without some negative consequences, is a neon sign advertisement for cheating in games, in school, in business, in life.
Finally, the draft choices were a crucial element, because taking away those really hurt the team. Otherwise it would have been just an affordable fine: Brady doesn’t need the millions he’ll lose by not playing four games, and the Patriots are more than a one-man team; they might still win all four. As for team owner Robert Kraft, he won’t even notice that the million dollars is missing. The draft choices the team will notice. Good.
But there is another injustice here that isn’t getting as much attention as the suspending of New England’s smirking, cheating star. The league’s statement adds that “Patriots owner Robert Kraft advised Commissioner Roger Goodell last week that Patriots employees John Jastremski and James McNally have been indefinitely suspended without pay by the club, effective on May 6th. Neither of these individuals may be reinstated without the prior approval of NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent.” Wait, Kraft has said and still says that his team did nothing wrong, but he’s suspending the two equipment managers without pay? For what, doing nothing? Is he seriously under the delusion that the equipment managers, entirely on their own, decided to illegally influence an NFL play-off game without any direction or encouragement from the coach or the quarterback?
Tom Brady and Kraft should pay the salaries of these two hapless low-level employees until the day they die. What were they supposed to do when the team’s famous star told them to deflate the footballs so he could grip them better in a playoff game being played under atrocious weather conditions? If they defied him, they would lose their jobs. If they did as he asked, they would have a powerful, wealthy ally. Tom Brady put these two men in a dilemma no employee should have to face.
In “The Verdict,” lawyer Paul Newman finds a witness to the medical negligence that made his client a virtual vegetable. She is a former nurse, now working as a teacher, and she reveals that after the doctor applied anesthesia to his now-comatose patient without noting that the admitting form said she had eaten just an hour before, resulting in the patient choking on her own vomit, he forced the admitting nurse to change the “1” to a “9” to hide his negligence. In an emotional speech from the stand, she cries,
“After the operation, when that poor girl she went into a coma, Dr. Towler called me in. He told me that he’d had five difficult deliveries in a row and he was tired… and he never looked at the admittance form. And he told me to change the form. He told me to change the ‘1’ to a ‘9’… or else… or else he said, he said he’d fire me. He said I’d never work again. Who were these men? Who were these men? I wanted to be a nurse!”
According to the NFL’s version of justice, she should have paid a higher price for the cover-up than the doctor or the hospital.
A few other observations:
- In an excellent piece on the ESPN site, Ian O’ Connor says that Brady should come clean and apologize rather than appeal his punishment:
This isn’t Pete Rose gambling on baseball or Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez pumping one illegal drug after another into their bodies for a competitive edge. Brady should tell the public that he thought he was merely driving 63 mph in a 55 mph zone, that he didn’t realize taking some air out of the ball was a big deal, and that he now realizes it is a very big deal.
He should apologize to Kraft for lying to him and for making the owner look and sound like a fool at the Super Bowl. He should apologize to Jastremski and McNally for putting franchise-player pressure on employees in no position to resist it, and for effectively costing them their jobs. And he should apologize to Wells, Goodell, Vincent and, more importantly, to fans everywhere who thought Tom Brady would be among the last quarterbacks to spike the integrity of his sport.
- Ironically, the same day that the Patriots got the bad news, baseball cheat (and lifetime home run leader) Barry Bonds announced that he was suing Major League Baseball for colluding to keep him out of the game in 2007 when he was a free agent. Bonds was then, as he is now, widely acknowledged as a flagrant PED user and an embarrassment to the game, but Bonds’ argument will be that it is inconceivable that teams would have eschewed hiring an unapologetic cheat just because doing so would have rotted their culture and disgusted fans like me. I’m sure that is inconceivable to him.
- Among the ethically clueless, “Everybody does it” is running neck and neck with “It’s not the worst thing” as the favorite rationalization being trotted out to defend Brady. I’m not sure which annoys me more; probably the latter. Cheating is cheating; all cheating is wrong, and undermines any system’s integrity. A competent and trustworthy culture cannot allow any form of cheating to go unpunished—and effective punishment has to both hurt and look like it hurts to outsiders—unless it wants to see more serious cheating take root as “acceptable.”
- The Deflategate scandal continues to serve as a useful integrity and values test. Pay close attention to the athletes and public figures who proclaim that the NFL’s punishment is “ridiculous.” They are all, every one of them, untrustworthy and likely to prove unable to unravel the most basic ethical challenge. Damning statements include “They would have won that game anyway” (“Cheating is OK if you don’t really have to”); “Lots of quarterbacks do that” (“Everybody does it”); and “That’s more games than they suspended the guy who cold-cocked his wife!” (“Apples are the same as oranges!”)
- It would be fascinating to know the correlation between Brady’s bitter-enders and the Democrats who think Hillary’s breach of her promise of transparency regarding foreign donors to her foundation and her violation of her State Department’s own policies regarding e-mail don’t matter.