27 May 2015: Brady sends youth wrong message

Brady sends youth the wrong lesson

I found myself engaged in a conversation with a couple locals about how I pick topics for this column.  The train of thought, as is often the case when thoughtful exchanges occur, meandered from my latest—what do we do post-Henderson—to that which has been dubbed “deflategate,” the charge that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady deliberately had his equipment managers deflate footballs below the league-required minimum.

“I don’t get it,” one said. “With all the great crises in the world, like beheadings by ISIS, I can’t understand why something like football is so huge to Americans.”

“That’s a great question,” I replied. “You’re right.  When it comes to stuff like the horrific bloodletting, football hardly ranks.  I suppose, therefore, what’s important is to understand why that’s the case.”

From there I tried to put it in context, which for me is from the perspective of a teacher.

When it came to the classroom, there were certain taboos, offenses that would get a student assuredly into hot water.  Being disrespectful whether to me or to fellow students was pretty bad.  So was inappropriate language and being out of line behaviorally.  Tardiness made the list too.  Most other misbehaviors I considered “manageable,” not to be approached with a heavy hand…except for one: Cheating.

Cheating in my teacher universe was the most salacious of offenses.  Cheating was fraudulent in that it belied the essential truth about a student’s performance.  If the result of the activity was due to a cheating, from peeking at or copying another’s work to downloading a paper and trying to pass it off as the student’s own, it gave no evidence to what the student could do.

It would, though, give evidence about his/her character and that’s the core of Tom Brady’s problem: It speaks volumes about his essential character.

Being willing to tamper with an essential rule in order to gain an advantage conveys the notion that he adopted the maxim, “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’, as his life philosophy.

Certainly the offence he’s been accused of—investigator Ted Wells states “it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware” footballs were illegally deflated—pales in comparison to the heinousness accusations of abuse made against other players.

While they all speak of the men’s characters, Brady’s goes deeper: It strikes at the integrity of the game, which is ostensibly about fair play.  As such it corrupted the game on a scale of the infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal that besmirched baseball. It’s an act of sacrilege and for that we’re abhorred.

Tampering with the game, however, is our problem too, ours as a nation.  We talk out of both sides of our mouth.  On the one hand, we, except for dimwitted sports commentators and columnists, abhor and condemn it.  On the other, to paraphrase one wise spiritual leader, “Let he without sin cast the first overinflated, rock-heavy football.”

My reader was right in her assertion there is much other about which we should be outraged.

Case in point: Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently announced a $5 billion dollar fine against five big banks for illegal practices.  It seems a lot, but in reality it’s chump change for those big boys.  In America few do time for white collar crime.

In similar manner, many elected officials feed at the trough of mega-donors and do their bidding.  It’s mind-blowing and corrupt, but the Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision has declared that form of corruption legal.

Deflategate is different.  If there is one unofficial secular holyday in America, it is Super Bowl Sunday, a day during which the eyes of America become glued to big screens to take in our version of ancient Greece’s quadrennial Olympic Games.  It’s Americana. The Vince Lombardi trophy is American sports’ Holy Grail.

Further, this scandal isn’t about anybody.  It’s about arguably American sport’s top role model.  Tom Brady is idolized by many student-athletes.  What he does, matters greatly.

Deflategate then is not about shallow Americans’ concern with a pointless game but about the message an iconic hero is communicating to very impressionable youth, one that counteracts the value teachers spend a good portion of their life’s work drilling into their students’ heads.

By not owning up and saying, “I blew it and I was wrong,” Tom Brady is effectively undercutting that message.

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