Two Cents (or less) On Patriot-gate
I know I am late to this party, but when dwil first wrote about the media attention given to the Belichick cheating issue last week, I wasn’t sure it was going to have significant legs. It just didn’t seem to me like it could really occupy the attention of the entire sports media for any length of time. Shows what I know.
I don’t how much longer this is going to last, now that the league has handed down its ruling and after the Pats absolutely smoked the Chargers without, one presumes, any unfair technological advantages, but I am amazed at the number of commentators who believe that this really calls into question the Patriots’ success over the years, especially given the extremely widespread nature of attempted sign-stealing in big-time athletics, including the NFL.
Bill Simmons’ chat with Aaron Shatz of the Football Outsiders last week linked to a 2002 article by Rick Reilly, in which Broncos’ coach Mike Shanahan casually acknowledges stealing signals. And, John Branch’s Giants’ blog at the New York Times website last week references a passage in Ernie Accorsi’s new book about how NFL teams used to hire lip-readers to steal signals. This is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. I have no problem with the league making rules like the one the Patriots broke, and I suspect one reason Goodell was particularly annoyed was that the Pats had already been warned about this type of behavior. But, the naivete and moralism on display here strikes me as especially juvenile (and, by the way, I dislike the Patriots and have only residual affection for the Giants’ former defensive coordinator).
Leaving aside sign-stealing in the NFL, just in the past week we’ve seen a $100 million dollar fine levied against a Formula One team for having improper access to car designs, reports of improper filming of a meeting of the Danish women’s soccer prior to a match against China, not to mention a good bit of discussion of the sign-stealing that preceded the most dramatic homerun in baseball history, Bobby Thompson’s 1951 “shot heard ’round the world.”
Does that justify rule-breaking? No. But, can we bring some semblance of perspective to the issue.
One of the points of debate has been about the severity of the penalty. One point of sympathy I have with those who say the penalty was too light is that it does strike me as completely incongruous that an assistant coach taking HGH for medical reasons (Wade Wilson) would be suspended for roughly a third of the season, which in addition to making no sense in competitive terms, will cost him a significant portion of his salary, more than the 10% of his salary that Belichick will pay in fines to the league. And, of course, Belichick won’t miss any games. I chalk this up, in significant measure, to the incoherent, arbitrary and crazed approach to drug use in this country, of which Goodell’s attitude and the league’s policies are just another manifestation.
On the other hand, I agree with Tony Kornheiser who, last night, described himself as in the minority in saying that a first round pick is a significant penalty. I realize that this is only one of two Pats’ first round picks, but first round picks are gold in the NFL and great players have been traded for less (see Randy Moss). On Jim Rome’s TV show last week, Rick Telander, in the midst of condemning the penalty as insufficient, argued that since Tom Brady was a sixth round pick, first round picks didn’t mean anything.
In all of the discussion of the penalty, I have not seen a single discussion or graphic of who the Patriots have actually used their picks on the past few years, which would seem to be helpful context for evaluating the significance of the penalty. In fact, among the Pats’ first round picks since 2001 have been their new featured running back, Lawrence Maroney (2006), starters Logan Mankins (2005), Ben Watson (2004) and Ty Warren (2003), and 2001 pick Richard Seymour (a higher pick, of course, than the Patriots will lose this year), perhaps their best defensive player. The fact that Tom Brady was not a first round pick is just a random and pointless “argument” against the severity of the sanction.
The Pats’ first round picks in the Belichick era comprise a considerable pool of talent and high draft picks are the lifeblood of any competent franchise. Losing one first round pick is not the end of the world. But, it’s a significant penalty.
In any event, as I mentioned a few weeks ago (see item #2), national discussions of cheating always remind of me of Dave Callahan’s work, especially in his book, The Cheating Culture. In a society predicated on the idea that one needs to do whatever it takes to get ahead, and in which thinking about the common good is often vilifed as socialism, reverse discrimination, or whatever other epithet seems convenient, cheating by elite competitors (it happens in business all the time) should be understood to come from some place. Americans are not, of course, alone in their cheating. But, we are unique, it seems, in our incomprehension of how such things could possibly happen each and every time a new scandal emerges.
By the way, and lost in Patriot-gate, and the apparently bad blood between the Chargers and the Patriots, when might the questions begin about whether Norv Turner, he of the 58-82 lifetime coaching record (prior to this season), really was the best candidate for the Chargers’ head coaching job? It’s early, and the Chargers have played two of the best defenses in the NFL, but…