Crime and punishment in light of Deflategate

Everybody can’t stop talking about balls. Everybody has balls on the brain. This ball is too heavy. This ball is too light. This ball is just right.

Balls. Balls. Balls. That’s the situation we’re in right now, on the surface. Balls.

An investigation carried out by the NFL concluded that the New England Patriots most likely violated league rules about air pressure in footballs used in their championship victory over the Indiana Colts. The report concluded that it’s more probable than not that the Patriots deliberately used under-inflated footballs and that superstar quarterback Tom Brady knew about it.

As punishment for the violations, Brady is stuck with a four-game suspension and the team loses $1 million, as well as its first round draft pick in 2016 and the fourth-round pick for 2017. This marks the largest fine against a team in NFL history.

In the midst of the maelstrom of finger pointing, accusation slinging and insistent denial, a narrative of moral right rises to the forefront of the debate.

NFL Executive ­President Troy Vincent penned a letter to Brady, calling his actions a detriment to the integrity of the sport as well as compromising the public’s confidence in the game.

Sure, Brady most likely cheated. But this isn’t about moral right and the integrity of the game. The NFL gave that up a long time ago.
Let’s be real here. Whether or not Brady was actually in the wrong with this soft and slightly airless ball, it makes sense that the league would want to make an example out of Brady for his actions on the field. They have that right. But that isn’t the real issue. If the league were actually concerned with the image of the NFL, it would have adequately responded to the countless off the field actions in the past as well. The real problem here is the NFL itself.

In 2010, Pittsburg Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended four games (knocked down from six), after being charged of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman. The charges against Roethlisberger were eventually dropped.

Ray Rice knocked his then-fiancée unconscious and dragged her out of an elevator but was initially only suspended two games. When surveillance videos of the attack came to light, the league reversed its previous decision and terminated his contract with the Baltimore Ravens. He was subsequently suspended indefinitely.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was initially suspended one game after beating his 4-year-old son with a switch. Peterson was later suspended for the rest of the season.

This short list doesn’t even begin to tap into the number of players with similar crimes or those suspended or banned for life for drug violations, alcohol abuse or other off-the-field actions.

Comparing Tom Brady to people like Ray Rice and the rest is a bit like comparing baseballs to golf balls, but it says something pretty damn clear about the NFL’s values. Including Rice and the others in this discussion brings a significant issue to light—the NFL has a history of leniency on people who commit disgusting and morally offensive acts.

What decisions like this tell me is that the NFL only cares about punishing players after a scandal breaks. It tells me that the NFL doesn’t value women as much as it does getting players back on the field. It tells me that the league is incapable of gauging violations and adequately responding to crimes and violations.

The real problem here isn’t air pressure. The real problem here is that the league has chosen to treat cheating as serious as sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Maybe instead of focusing on the balls, the discussion should turn to the brains behind the game.