I long ago gave up my belief in the Easter bunny. (The rabbits who regularly destroy my garden took care of that.) Santa Claus is a relic of a decades-past childhood. But now, harsh reality demands that I can no longer cling to the idea of Tom Brady, man god. Mr. Perfect. The National Football League, in handing down its severe punishment of an unprecedented four-game suspension (will Brady even miss the $2 million cost of that?), $1 million fine for the Patriots, and loss of two draft picks has said that Tom Brady is worse than the wife beaters, drug users and thugs who populate the league.
This week, President Obama, chiding Senator Elizabeth Warren for her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact, dismissed her as a politician like any other politician. How damning is that! So now we have to face the fact that the man who is arguably the best quarterback ever (at worse, second best) is just a football player like any other: a guy who will do whatever it takes to win. He’ll do it even if it means pushing and exceeding the limits of the rules envelope – or look the other way as someone else (in this case, two equipment managers who have now lost their jobs.) As the NFL investigation concluded, it is “more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”
It’s all well and good to say that everyone does it, rubbing dirt on the ball for greater traction, scuffing up the leather. How many of the other teams routinely deflate or inflate the balls beyond allowable limits to suit their quarterbacks? The Boston Globe has identified the Panthers, Vikings and Chargers as just a few of those who have been involved in equipment tampering. In such a world, what does constitute the much vaunted integrity of the game? Well, as my parents told me, just because everyone does wrong doesn’t mean you should too.
But does the punishment fit the crime? It’s appropriately less severe that that visited upon Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez and others guilty of doping, a far more nefarious way to cheat. I have to think that, if owner Bob Kraft hadn’t demanded an apology from Commissioner Roger Goodell at the beginning of the brouhaha, and, if Patriots officials had seemed to cooperate more with the investigation, perhaps the punishment wouldn’t have been so severe. (According to CBS, Brady spent a day answering preliminary questions but refused to turn over his cell phone. Some Brady messages on equipment man John Jastremski’s phone were accessible to investigators, but Brady messages to others – possibly to Kraft, Belichick, and his agent- were not.) Surely matters were made worse because the Patriots were not a first-time NFL rules offender.
Crisis communications 101 suggests a preferred route for the team to have taken. If, for example, Brady had been more forthcoming after the fact, if he had early on owned up and apologized to the extent he was culpable, perhaps the issue would have been resolved without reaching the mess it is today. But he has been evasive in the, say, Belichick press conference style. When my friend Mark Leibovich (NY times writer) asked the quarterback whether he preferred hard balls or soft balls, Brady said, “Truthfully, the balls feel the same to me.” Oh, really?
Brady dodged interviewer Jim Gray’s questions at the recent Salem State University speaker series, saying (rather lamely) that he hadn’t had time to digest the report. That strains credulity. He said he’d be making a statement. When?
And where does the league go from here? NPR sports reporter Tom Goldman suggested letting every team do to its footballs whatever the quarterback wants. According to that reasoning, allowing both sides that freedom eliminates the advantage for either. CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer made a better suggestion: have the NFL provide all the balls, and have control of them throughout each game.
Even if the Patriots’ appeal of the sanctions results in a reduction of the punishment, it seems clear that the Pats’ stellar record will go down with a real or metaphorical asterisk in the record books. Regrettably, Tom Brady’s brand has been tarnished as the sheen dulls on the golden boy’s reputation. It’s a sad day for 11 and 12-year olds, and for the kid in all of us.
I welcome your comments in the section below.