Deflate-gate calls for willing suspension of disbelief

Tom Brady 2015To enjoy the performance at the movies and in theater, audience members often have to suspend their connection with reality.  So, too, with another form of entertainment, professional football.  Is it really possible that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, legendary masters of detail and planned execution, knew absolutely nothing about the under-inflation of footballs?  Remember Captain Renault in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” The phrase “strains credulity” comes to mind.

Owner Bob Kraft has said little beyond that the team is cooperating with the NFL investigation.  He was equally silent when the NFL investigation was focused on Ray Rice and other NFL incidents of domestic abuse. Would that Kraft’s late, beloved wife Myra were still around to speak truth to the overgrown boys of the NFL. Whatever the outcome of the current league investigation, the team’s brand is certainly diminished by this unrelenting story. But I’ll still root for the Pats at the Super Bowl.

Are there many other unanswered questions that deserve candid responses? You bet. Friday’s Boston Herald poses 12 such questions to be asked of Tom Brady.  I want to see scientists weigh in more with facts about whether and to what extent footballs inflated indoors at the lowest allowable level can dip significantly below that (12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch)  threshold when they’re taken out in the cold.  Data analysis (not by me) suggests the Patriots have incurred fumbles at an abnormally low rate the past few seasons.  Could this be a sign that the issue goes go beyond one game?

I want to know what the behaviors are across all the NFL teams. (A similar story dogged the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is said to like his balls overinflated.) Are the Pats being picked on because outside New England they’re the team America loves to hate?  Is New England really the Yankees of the NFL?  I’ll still root for the Pats at the Super Bowl.

Media coverage has been all Tom, all the time. On Thursday night all three major networks somberly led their nightly news with the story, seriously intoning that deflategate threatens the integrity of the nation’s most watched sport.  Integrity? Really?

We (journalists and readers/viewers alike) love this story because it’s such a distraction from the real problems of the world. Struggling European economies, Boko Haram, Russian aggression, ebola, Isis, global warming, inadequate and expensive health care, racial disparities in education. We have little to no faith in our institutions, highly partisan and gridlocked Congress, a disappointing President,  cheating PhD researchers, you name it.  So now Mr. Perfect, Number 12, may not be all he’s cracked up to be.  His image is, yes, deflated. But I’ll still root for the Pats at the Super Bowl.

Today’s Boston Globe has a column by Michael Whitmer outlining ten reasons the team is going to Phoenix next week.  He interrupts the media frenzy with what he labels “an actual, deflation-free football story.” He cites this year’s additions to the team like Revis and Blount, strengthened pass defense, kick blocking (five times this season), stabilizing the offensive line, in short, improvements in all their parts. They deserve to be in the Super Bowl.

Both teams have their bad guys and good guys, and the Seattle Seahawks are worthy competitors.  Few, if any, of the deflate-gate questions will be answered before the Super Bowl, a delay that will probably glue more eyeballs to CBS at 6:20 p.m. next Sunday.

We’ve long put successful sports figures on pedestals, but few, if any, are heroes possessed of courage and nobility.  They have very specific talents, which are disproportionately highly compensated.  Most have feet of clay, and it’s time for us to grow up and recognize that. But, whatever the truth underlying this overinflated story, it’s still okay to enjoy watching the game, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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