Monday, May 11, 2015

Mondays Musings on Sports - Tom not so Terrific and the Perils of Consistency

Today news broke about the punishment handed down by the NFL for scandal known as "Deflategate." Although the story had been developing since the end of the AFC Championship game in January, the issue reached its conclusion withe news that a punishment had been handed down to the New England Patriots and their QB Tom Brady. For those unfamiliar with the story, I will provide a brief synopsis.

Soon after the Patriots defeated the Colts in the AFC Championship game on January 18, 2015, the various news outlets began reporting about how footballs supplied by the New England Patriots for use in the AFC Championship game had been found to be underinflated. I recall sitting in the car less than an hour after the second Sunday game had ended and hearing reports from players on other teams who had handled New England Patriot footballs which had been intercepted or otherwise turned over and who realized that the footballs were underinflated.

At the time, I did not understand the significance of the under inflated footballs as I assumed (incorrectly) that each team used the same footballs during the game. However, as the story developed I learned that each team supplied their own footballs to be used by their offense during the game. This would be significant as a football which was underinflated would be easier to grip by the QB (in this case Tom Brady of the Patriots). Another interesting twist on the story was that the NFL had confiscated all of the Patriot footballs during half time (when the score was 17-7 New England) and that after the playing field had been "leveled" the Patriots ran off the next 28 points.

Within days, the story took on a life of its own as Tom Brady gave a bizarre interview in which he laughed off the allegations that the footballs had been altered or that anyone had been in contact with him about it. But the story took on a life of its own, both during the subsequent weeks leading up to the Super Bowl and afterwards. As the evidence began to mount that there was an intent to break the rules, the NFL hired Ted Wells who interviewed and collected evidence. Last week, Wells published his report which included text messages between Patriots employees which referenced the deflation of footballs. It also included phone records which showed that Brady had been in touch with the employees and had protracted (in length) phone conversations with them.

Having reviewed the Wells report - the NFL handed down its punishment - the Patriots lost a 1st Round and 4th Round draft pick, and were also fined $1 million. Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2015-2016 season. Although it seems that the Patriots will not be challenging their penalty, Brady and the NFLPA (players union) will appeal his punishment.

To me, there are two things to take away from the saga. The first is that the NFL is at fault for having a system which can be so easily manipulated. In baseball, the balls are brought to the home plate umpire who looks them over and puts them into play, whereas in football after they are checked they are returned to the team and the team can doctor them before they are put into play.

The second issue is that a great QB will now be forever scarred by his association with the scandal and the report which indicates that he knew what was going on. Don't get me wrong, as a Jets fan I have no love for the Patriots or Tom Brady. But, a player who has been a Hall of Fame career will now be forever linked to cheating and people will wonder how long this occurred and how many victories were tainted.

The story reminds me of a vort that I heard from R' Mansour in explaining a medrash about a conversation between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe sees that King Shaul will die young and he asks Hashem why this will happen. Hashem responds - Emor el HaKohanim - ask the Kohanim. Its a reference to Shaul's act in having Nov the City of Kohanim destroyed because he thought that they were rebelling against him. The problem is that the Gemara is clear that Shaul dies because of the sin of not wiping out all of Amalek. So how do you synthesize the concepts?

R' Mansour explained that the issue is consistency. King Shaul had a defense to why he did not wipe out all of Amalek as he was commanded. He could have said - I am too compassionate to do this. But he lost this defense when he was not "too compassionate" to wipe out the City of Nov.

L'havdil, there is some parallel to Mr. Brady. He has built a career on consistency and excellence. But since it now appears that some of the victories came with improper "assistance" the question needs to be asked - how many of those victories were actually earned?

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