Monday, May 11, 2015

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

First a disclaimer:  I am not a Tom Brady fan.  In fact, football isn't even my favorite sport-- I much prefer baseball.  But the NFL's four game suspension of Brady during the so-called "Deflate-gate" scandal seems excessively harsh to me.  And it pales in comparison to the lenient treatment given to players who assaulted their girlfriend the way Ray Rice did.  (I tweeted about that:  beat up your girlfriend, get a two game suspension; slightly deflate a football, get a four game suspension.  Okay then.)  And let's not forget Michael Vick, who ran a gambling ring, and tortured dogs-- yes I know, he ended up going to jail; but what did the NFL do about him? They welcomed him back with open arms, as far as I can tell. And don't get me started about all the teams who recently fought to sign Jameis Winston, despite his less than stellar past; accused of sexual assault, accused of theft, accused of other bad behavior, yet rewarded with a huge contract. What a country.

I am not claiming that Tom Brady is innocent.  I am not even saying he is above reproach.  But when it comes to the slightly deflated footballs, I sincerely don't know if he did this.  Even the report that came from the NFL says he "probably" was involved in deflating the balls;  but "probably" is not the same as "we can prove he did it."  In fact, the report seemed to reflect that the investigators were angry with Brady-- they were peeved that he refused to turn over his cell phone and they felt the Patriots organization did not give them sufficient cooperation.  I also understand that outside of Boston, where he's a hero, a lot of fans hate Tom Brady and they also hate the Patriots' coach, Bill Belichick.  I've heard fans say the Patriots are arrogant and that they've cheated before, so they're probably cheating now.  All of that may be true, but again, in a league where until very recently, the commissioner was fine about ignoring domestic abuse by players (until public opinion shifted), I find it hard to take the NFL seriously when it talks about the need to punish Brady to preserve the "integrity of the game."  In fact, I'd be shocked if there were no other quarterbacks who ever tried to alter the pressure of the football to make it more to their liking.  And I'd be even more shocked if there were an investigation to see whether Brady is the only QB who ever tried this.

One of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible is Exodus 21:24, about "an eye for an eye."  No, it isn't about vengeance or retaliation.  It's about making sure the punishment fits the crime.  Whether on the field or off, athletes are role models.  Ignoring players who break the law, or (until recently) giving no punishment or just a short suspension to someone who beat up his significant other sends a troubling message.  So for now, let the pile-on begin, and cue all the Brady-haters.  Yes, maybe Tom Brady does deserve to be punished... but I am still not persuaded that a four game suspension is fair.  And even if somehow the NFL becomes able to prove that Brady ordered the footballs deflated, the league still has a lot to answer for when it comes to its selective application of ethical standards.

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