The National Football League has reportedly confiscated a camera being used by a New England Patriots employee during Sunday’s game against the New York Jets that was allegedly used to record the Jets’ defensive signal-calling. If true, this is an embarrassment to the team and to the fans and a taint on their burgeoning football dynasty.
There is a league rule against recording the opposing team’s signals to their defensive players on the field. The Patriots apparently have a reputation for this and other teams now claim to have caught them doing this last year.
Here’s where I stand. Rules are rules and if you agree to play, knowing the rules, then you should follow them or suffer the consequences when caught breaking them. Yet when there’s a culture of cheating and “pushing the envelope,” it’s hard to take seriously the outrage of other players and teams.
I’m not excusing the Patriots. If they cheated, they should suffer the consequences.
There are also rules against using performance-enhancing drugs. How many players in the NFL could honestly claim never having used such drugs? At a less serious level, holding by offensive players during play is a foul, yet everyone acknowledges that holding isn’t called on every play of the game only because the referees can’t see it all. Another rule bans the use of “stick-um” on the hands of offensive ball-handlers, so it is quite common for them to smear any sticky substance on their hands or to use especially sticky gloves. Defensive players have been banned from smearing Vaseline on themselves on their uniforms so they routinely cover themselves in silicone spray and other slick substances.
It’s not just football. In auto racing, cheating is an art form, with former advanced practitioners held up as role models. Of course now that NASCAR is trying to end the perception of widespread cheating in its sport and advance the notion of a level-playing field, they are forced to level heavier and heavier penalties for infractions and create ever more arcane and specific rulebooks designed to cover every possible instance of “creative” interpretation.
And I’m not even going to venture into the realm of personal ethics and the off-field infidelities and moral lapses that are accepted as the norm for highly paid athletes today.
I’m not excusing the Patriots. If they cheated, they should suffer the consequences, which reportedly could include a draft pick. But the shock and dismay of other teams and players is a little too much to bear. Better that we see a little humility and discretion from them lest they find themselves in a similar spotlight.