It’s generally not believed to be a good thing to be associated with a growing number of events that ultimately garner the ‘-gate’ suffix, no matter how many times you may reach the pinnacle of your profession.
That is where the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick currently find themselves less than a week after it was confirmed by league officials that the team’s game balls, which were properly inspected by the game officials prior to kickoff, were underinflated by the time they were in play in the Patriots’ AFC Championship game stomping of the Indianapolis Colts.
That’s not to say, of course, that the Patriots may not have won had somebody involved with the Patriots organization not tampered with the footballs in order to take some air out of them. A 37-point margin is a fairly big discrepancy for two pounds of air, after all.
But that is actually beside the point, which is, as prominent Boston sports journalist Jackie MacMullan wrote yesterday, “about the integrity of the sport and the arrogance of a football coach who, if guilty, has once again shown that he thinks he is bigger than the game”.
It seems that Belichick has created in New England a culture that ascribes to the notion that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, regardless of how large or small an advantage some act might grant you. Because, again, there will never be a convincing argument that the Patriots would have lost to the Colts had the balls been properly inflated.
Of course, the league hasn’t exactly been painting itself in the greatest light in recent times when it comes to the matter of addressing issues pertaining to the integrity of the game. Just look at the fiasco that the Ray Rice incident turned into and the way in which the NFL shamed itself in the way it conducted its investigation—and the subsequent investigation of the investigation.
Another theme that has been emerging is the implication that what the Patriots did was okay—because it’s been done before. There are other known instances of players or teams having the footballs doctored to their own specifications. It’s part of the sport, albeit a hushed up part. But because it’s there, it’s therefore okay, technically, even if it still results in punishment with a wink and a nudge.
After all, what tangible effect will there be on the outcome of the Super Bowl in less than two weeks? The Patriots will still be playing the game. Maybe the game balls will be observed under a more watchful eye, but that’s about it.
Realistically, the people who will care least about the consequences of ‘Deflategate’ are the people who will have it on their resume. All they are concerned with is whether or not they win. Does it matter to them if this number of incidents raises questions about just how many things they’ve gotten away with en route to becoming the premiere football team over the past decade and a half? Of course not. I can’t help but wonder to myself what the point is if nothing changes. At least change the rule if you’re not going to properly enforce it.