ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“No, we don’t cheat,” former Major League Baseball manager Tommy Lasorda once said. “And even if we did, I’d never tell you.” It seems the legendary Los Angeles coach’s quip on corner-cutting is shared by many in professional sports –- especially the NFL.
A case in point is the New England Patriots. As the Pats prepare for their Super Bowl appearance this Sunday, the fact that they were caught cheating –- videotaping the New York Jets’ sideline signals, a violation of league rules –- early in the season is hardly a hot topic of conversation.
One sports writer shrugged off the issue by saying, “He [Patriot coach Bill Belichick] was judged and punished long ago by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.” In other words, the Pats have paid their debt to the league and all should be forgotten.
The aforementioned columnist justified his cavalier attitude toward the Pats’ transgression by saying that dozens of coaches routinely cheat the system. “Belichick’s hard luck,” he wrote, “was that he was the first to be caught….”
Sadly, it seems, the columnist may be right. The reason the outrage in the NFL has been so muted is because it is likely too many in the league are willing to bend the rules in an effort to win.
Some argue that the NFL simply is a reflection of American culture where varying degrees of cheating are routinely practiced. David Callahan chronicled the ways cheating takes place in his book “The Cheating Culture: Why more Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead,” which was published in 2004.
In a review of Callahan’s book, The Boston Globe wrote: “Provocative…. That Americans cheat more than they used to sounds like an impossible hypothesis to prove. And, yet, Callahan’s book is thick with convincing examples.”
A large percentage of Americans take a “so what?” approach to Spygate. Everyone does it -– in the NFL and in life. The only thing wrong with the Pats is they got caught. Or so it is said.
The penalties the Patriots incurred for breaking league rules were the stiffest ever handed out. Belichick was fined $500,000. The team was fined $250,000 and forced to forfeit a first-round draft choice in 2008.
While the penalties might seem severe, I would argue they were nothing more than a slap on the wrist. To a multimillion dollar coach like Belichick, $500,000 is not a lot of money — ditto for a quarter-of-a-million dollar filed to a franchise like the Patriots. As for the draft choice, the Pats routinely pick near the bottom of the first round. By the time they are ready to select a player, the best talent is long gone.
So what should Commissioner Goodell have done to the Patriots? What would have sent a message that cheating will not be tolerated in the NFL? How about hitting them where it would really hurt –- the win column?
Had Goodell forced New England to forfeit game one to the lowly Jets, it might have gotten the attention of the Pats and the other teams in the league.
Of course a Patriot forfeiture would have ended the quest for a perfect season. However, in the minds of many the fact that New England was caught cheating has already marred their flawless season.
I would like to submit the following suggestions to Commissioner Goodell for putting a stop to cheating in the NFL. A first-time violation for cheating –- spying, etc. — would result in the forfeiture of a game. A second violation would draw a three-game forfeiture. A third transgression and a team would have five wins taken away.
Fining multimillionaire players and/or coaches paltry sums is not going to change their behavior. Since winning is everything in the NFL, the commissioner needs to hit them where it hurts -– in the win column. Take away what they covet so much, winning and a chance at the Super Bowl, and I think you will get their attention.
One question that may never be answered is: Why did the Patriots feel the need to cheat? They are by all estimations a great team. So why did they stoop to stealing the Jets’ signals? One sports writer speculated, “Because everyone does it.”
“It’s easier to go along with the cheating culture,” David Callahan wrote in “The Cheating Culture.” He added, “And often, when you’re deep inside a system where cheating has been normalized, you can’t even see that there are choices between being honest and playing by corrupt means.”
Until professional sports and American society treat all cheating seriously, and responds with stiff penalties, it is simply going to continue.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.