Postgame Spread
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More Stuff About "Cheating"    

You'll note by those double-quotes that the backlash has inspired a change of heart in me.

Yesterday, I battered the Patriots for the whole videotaping fiasco.  I was more interested in piling on than in defending them, since they don't really deserve much defense for pulling this crap.  The whole thing is embarrassing, stupid, and (worst of all) totally unnecessary.  And as a group, the people running the team are pretty much arrogant, despicable, thoroughly unlikable individuals.  So I feel little need to defend their honor.  On that count, I'm not particularly concerned about how severely they're punished.

It's the perception issues that bother me.  Everyone's having their fun at the Patriots' expense.  There's a lot of misinformation out there, now that the backlash has spiraled so far out of control.  We're now fully engaged in echo-chamber absolutism: someone said "cheating," and everyone flipped out.  When someone tells me it's cheating, I react by saying it should never ever be allowed, no matter what the cheating actually entailed.  That way, I don't have to consider shades of grey!


I'm all for punishing rule-breakers, Belichick included.  Any of our six readers will know that I'm as guilty of outraged righteousness as anybody.  But you have to be a moron, a Nazi, or Crazy Jeff in full-throttle rage mode to claim that this somehow explains or negates the Patriots' success.  No.  Rotten as it was to break the rules, it is mostly ignorant and entirely without merit to chalk up the success of the franchise to espionage.

I have a lot to say about this.  (Six posts in one!)

It doesn't appear to have affected Sunday's game
Let's look at what actually happened.  Someone on the coaching staff, certainly at Belichick's command, videotaped the opposing coaches' hand signals against league rules.  That video would later be synced up with video of the play, which would expose what the hand signals represented.  The information gleaned from that sync would allow Belichick, Brady et al to counterpunch by calling audibles, thus increasing the chances of success on a particular play... the subsequent matchup.  That sync-up was not happening in real time.  Nor were they broadcasting into the coaches' box or anything, as far as I can tell.  Plus, the guy was caught in the first quarter, well before the Patriots did any significant damage.  I have a hard time believing anyone can argue that they affected the game.  There goes the forfeit argument.

The notion that they were just using their own preferred angle for postmortem analysis (containing the exact same information as any other overhead video from the game), thereby flipping off the NFL and what they would see as unnecessary, draconian rules, makes far more sense than Belichick cheating so stupidly and obviously.  Not saying it's impossible, just saying the many cries of "it doesn't make any sense" with reference to one of the smartest men ever employed in the NFL is too telling.  (Lehr, the arrogance factor is indeed there, but I don't think that's a sufficient explanation.)

Anyway, once you realize how unlikely it is that they cheated in the middle of any game, the word "cheating" no longer seems appropriate.  And the whole proceeding takes on the form of a witch hunt.  Or, you know, a fabricated scandal.

They aren't the only ones trying to figure out signals
They're just the ones who got caught, and who broke league rules to do it.  Read the remarks from Charley Casserly last winter about the Dolphins' attempts to decode signs.  The Dolphins synced up audio (all of it obtained legally) to the plays in order to determine the same information.  Is that not in the same ballpark as what the Pats did illegally?

Also consider Casserly's story about a team that apparently bugged a lineman in order to catch audio of the opposing quarterback.  So one extra camera on the sideline is a capital crime, but bugging is no big deal?  Yeah, that's consistent.

Lots of teams are trying to do the same exact thing, legally or otherwise.  Nobody should be acting like the Patriots are alone in this.  To hold up Belichick as the one guy who did this is either naive or disingenuous.  They're only alone in being stupid enough to get caught.

Who would be so dumb as to continue using the same signs?
So, the Pats apparently have a reputation for stealing signs.  The league's worst-kept secret, it turns out.  Everyone knows the Pats will be pulling this shit on them.

If it's so commonly known, why would anyone go up against New England without brand-new signals?  They do want to win, don't they?

Why would they not change things up anyway, even without the allegations?  Anyone silly enough to assume their signs wouldn't be stolen deserves to lose.  If baseball teams can change things up frequently and still function, so can football teams.  Sorry, Coach, but you were given a brain as a child, and I expect you to use it.  Sign-stealing should give you a temporary edge, not a permanent one.

Time for the embittered Rules Nazis to come out of hiding
There's another group out there saying the Pats knowingly broke a rule and deserve to be punished.  The rule is there for a reason, there's no excuse for disobedience, etc.

I would ask these hall-monitor wannabes if they've ever driven 56 miles per hour.  Throwing stones from glass houses and whatnot.

I would ask these brilliantly nuanced thinkers to the number of dirty hits and uncalled holding penalties that take place over the course of a football game.  The sum total of uncalled penalty yardage that unassessed by NFL referees since the dawn of man would probably stretch to Neptune.  Never mind the other calls that teams have gotten away with.

Finally, I would ask them to put a number on how many NFL players have smoked weed in the last calendar year.  Good luck enforcing that.  If you took away a draft pick for every player caught with weed, the draft wouldn't happen until 2021.

In short, show me an honest football team that hasn't bent a single rule on any level, and I'll show you twenty illegal acts they performed this past weekend alone.  There's no high road to be taken by any team out there... it's thirty-two low roads.  As in life, you have to decide where to draw a line.

And that's the true problem, isn't it?  Not that a rule was broken, but that a line was crossed.  Keying a car and pissing on that car's tires are both acts of vandalism, but only one of them crosses a line.  Belichick didn't care for the line.  Right and wrong don't enter into it this time.

The "fall" of an otherwise perfect franchise
This is a joke, right?

The New-England-does-things-the-right-way stuff is hogwash.  And that's not news, either.  Bill Belichick is an arrogant scumbag.  Scott Pioli is also an arrogant scumbag; ask Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri and Asante Samuel about him.  Bob Kraft... arrogant scumbag.  Lots of the players, too, as Human Growth Harrison has reminded us.  Anything the mainstream says about the Pats as a symbol of truth, justice, etc. is unadulterated bullcrap.

This revelation, then, doesn't contradict the team's pristine public image.  It contradicts a bunch of known, proven bullcrap.  They were always capable of something like this.  THEY ARE... WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!  IF YOU WANNA CROWN THEM, CROWN THEIR ASS!!!

I hate to go here...
...but I have no choice but to wonder what the real motivations are behind all this moral outrage.

Everyone hates the Pats.  They win all the time.  They've benefited from luck breaks more than once.  They've been pumped up as the embodiment of what's right about football: hard work, teamwork, brains, guile, blah blah blah.  People hate that shit.  Everyone's been chomping at the bit to tear them down; now they've got their excuse to attack.

I can empathize with that.  If this were baseball, and I found out the Yankees had a camera set up in center field relaying signs to the dugout, I'd undoubtedly be more bullshit than anyone.  But I'm sure you've already guessed what my #1 motivation for being so bullshit would be.

People have the right to be angry, but as soon as you go past Belichick simply being overcompetitive, greedy, classless and unethical, and start implicating the entire franchise's success because of this one thing, that's when you've started attacking the Pats for your own private reasons.  Ask yourself what your reaction would have been if the Bears were caught doing the same exact thing.  If it's any different, your reasons are personal, and you lose.  If you insist it would be the same, then I sincerely hope you're as honest with yourself as you think you are.

(As for the other side of that coin, I bet you doubt I'd defend another team as voraciously as I'm defending my own.  I might not defend them as thoroughly, but I don't know that I'd be out for blood in the same way.  So suck it.)

Last thing
Look, I'm ashamed of all this.  I'm not asking for sympathy or pity or whatever.  I've copped to my biases.  If the taping affected the game in progress in any way, I'd want to see some forfeits.

But having spent most of the last day thinking about the situation, that really doesn't look like the case.  So I really don't see what the big deal is.  Until we see some proof that they used their camera to steal signals in real time, what they did was break a league regulation that had no bearing on the game's outcome, but gives them a slight edge in the film room (assuming their opponents aren't complete idiots).  Is that really worth a big, nasty scandal?  And would it have gotten to this point if it were anybody else?  I think not.

Let the punishment fit the crime, and give the moral absolutism a rest.

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  • Word. I think this is explained by the Patriots success and explains the Patriots success, in one and only one respect:

    Both are a result of and an indication of the singleminded pursuit of success at any cost by the Patriots franchise. They do this, and they win all of the time, because they're the kind of people who do whatever if fucking takes to win all of the times, the rest be damned. I'm sort of ambivalent about that (in the true love/hate sense), but I don't blame them. It's the inevitable consequence of the place of sports in our society. It's definitely a little strange, but then, so are we.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 4:07 PM  

  • Uh... that is, "whatever it fucking takes," obviously. Huh.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 4:08 PM  

  • Exactly. This is a fundamental extension of winning NFL principles. This is not a scandal. The outrage is arbitrary.

    In fact, it's one of those things where you wonder whether people are really mad about what they say they're mad about.

    I've thought on more than one occasion that the amount of accountability and punishment we demand from leaders in the private sector (Mike Vick, Bill Belichick, David Stern, whom I shall call by his real name since it's Rosh Hashanah) is the kind of accountability that we have been so frequently denied the last few years in government (Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Cheney, Bush, Enron, Halliburton).

    The sports crimes, on the other hand, can actually be affected by public outcry. Unlike the government, someone eventually listens to the people. And they make their voices heard. Maybe that's what the mob is in it for... being heard.

    Seriously. People get outraged about sports scandals more than EVER. The Amare/Diaw suspensions... the Donaghy thing... Mike Vick... Belichick... you look at the response and think "wow, people are REALLY MAD about this." It's not a huge leap to suggest that it's misplaced political frustration. Or maybe just plain old frustration in general... people are awfully insignificant nowadays, and could easily be acting out.

    I dunno. I just doubt people are really this pissed about Belichick having a video camera.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4:41 PM  

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