What Tom Brady’s Saggy Balls Can Teach Our Kids About Cheating

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cheatingIf you aren’t a football fan, you might not be aware of the latest scandal to rock the NFL. It’s being called #DeflateGate. Basically, Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, is accused of illegally using saggy balls in a recent game in order to get an advantage over the other team, because as we all know, saggy balls are easier to grip than firm balls.

Listen — it’s a story about balls. It’s not like I had a choice here.

Silliness aside, that is, in fact, essentially what happened. In the Patriots’ recent game against the Colts, officials discovered that the Patriots’ footballs were deflated below the minimum allowable level, which makes them easier to grasp them in cold and wet weather. They pulled twelve game balls, and announced last night that of those twelve, eleven of them weighed about two pounds less than what is legal. That’s not an accident or a coincidence, that’s cheating.

What I find interesting as a parent is the differing responses to these allegations. Many people feel as I do, that cheating is cheating and since the NFL has very publicly learned about this and it is their responsibility to punish Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization. If you don’t punish someone who breaks the rules, then what do you have rules for in the first place? We run into this kind of situation with our kids all of the time: if I make an exception for this rule, then what message am I sending? If I let this go, then what does it tell them about what’s right and what’s wrong?

On the other side of the controversy, you have those who argue that deflating the balls doesn’t matter since the Patriots won their game against the Colts by a score of 45-7. They are right in the sense that the Colts probably would have lost that game regardless of whether the balls were properly inflated or not. But that’s not the point. We aren’t arguing about whether the right team won the game. The fact of the matter is that a rule was broken. Period. Whether it ended up benefitting them or not is beside the point.

Those who are on the Patriots’ side in this also argue that is it an open secret that every team messes with the footballs in some way or another before games, so the Patriots shouldn’t take the fall for something that everyone does. That may be true, but it doesn’t matter. As I would say to my kids, “Well, I’m not the parent of the other 31 teams.” The Patriots got caught. The other teams weren’t. Therefore, the Patriots need to be made an example of. That is just how life works. You make an example of someone, you remind all their friends that this is not acceptable behavior, and their friends look at the punishment and say, “Shit. Guess we’d better cut it out so that doesn’t happen to us.”

How we talk about events like this affects our kids and how they think about what it means to skirt the rules. I want my kids to know that cheating is always wrong, no matter what. Period. End of subject. DeflateGate may seem like it’s only about football, but it’s really about cheating, what that means, and how those in charge deal with it. We parents are in the business of teaching our kids what’s right and what’s wrong, so — to quote the Patriots’ team motto — “Do your job.”

(Photo: Racorn / Shutterstock)