Here I am just days removed from writing a blog post on this blog about the “crisis in character” in our society, in both the world we live in, and in the Church, and last night, I am on my iPad, getting into my evening routine, getting caught up on the news of the day, and my notifications are going nuts across my screen about Brady and the NFL commissioner upholding the 4 game suspension, and releasing new evidence as to why the ruling is a firm 4 game suspension. This “new evidence” has put the North American sports scene in a tumult today.
My Response as Both a Christian and a Fan are the Same
A Christian “life ethic” is an ethic that seeks to live out the “teachings of Jesus” in a pragmatic way, whereby we attempt as people who have experienced a life change through an encounter with the living Christ, to live out an authentic, ethic, moral life, not so much as a life of “do’s and don’ts” but rather, as an outflow of love and gratitude to God, for the love and mercy we have received from Him. We honor God and His character by how we choose to live our lives in our private time when no one is watching, with our spouses, our children and families, with friends, with coworkers, at play and recreation, and in service to others. Our desire is for consistency in character and integrity in all things. To be what we are seen to be, and to be seen and acknowledged as to who we true are.
This Christian world and life view is the filter by which I engage in society and culture as a whole. I can no more separate my “faith” from any action and activity I am engaged in, as it would require me to cut myself off from my core DNA as a person. My faith in God affects everything. So, in this instance, when I see the “Deflategate Scandal”, it affects me as a person who lives in the culture where NFL football is a big deal, and as a football “fan”, it is an even bigger deal with more implications for me as a “fan” on one of the Patriot’s rival teams in the same AFC East division. But it also affects me as a Christian, in how I look at this “sport” and look at how the “media” and popular culture is interacting and responding to this issue. It is providing a really great platform for a discussion of “ethics in sport” and the “legacy of super athletes”, and the “idolatry” we have within the culture when it comes to the great praise and reverence we heap on these athletes.
So What is it That Has Happened?
Unless you are in hiding, or don’t follow the news, or hate sports, you likely are well aware of this “deflategate” scandal. I know two people for sure who don’t care, because they don’t like sports. That would include my dear wife Lori, and my best friend Neil. I presume Neil knows more simply because he follows the news. My wife on the other hand, simply acknowledges that I am a Habs and Bills fan, and indulges my passion for these two teams. But she really does not care.
So, to summarize, during the AFC Final, which would decide which team would be going to the Super Bowl last February (2015), a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots, it was found that there were deflated footballs, almost all of them under the care and control of New England Patriots officials. The score of that conference final was a one sided blow out of the Colts by the Pats, where Brady and his boys smoked the Colts 45-7. It was all one sided, and when it was noticed that the Pats’ balls were lower than the regulated pressure, the fingers were pointed to the Pats as being “cheaters” again, a repeat offender after the “spygate” scandal of 2007. Owners and fans in the league were furious, and the Pats went into their usual denial mode, from the owner to the team, players and fan base.
The result of this issue with the deflated balls led to an NFL investigation which was blunted, deflected, hindered, by the actions of Tom Brady and Pats officials and Brady’s lawyers. Brady essentially refused to disclose the necessary data from his cell phone to see if whether or not he had been engaged in direct text messages with Pats personnel who handled his footballs for game days, to have the pressure lowered to his favorite touch and feel for game day. There were texts from two employees that implicated Brady as QB, but there was nothing forthcoming from Brady and his lawyers.
The NFL investigation under Troy Vincent was resisted, and Brady was non-compliant to requests to have his phone vetted by his own lawyers, and the NFLPA did not allow Pats personnel to testify. So all that was done by the Pats and Brady was to simply deny the information needed to exclude them from being viewed as “cheaters”. This latest ruling by the commissioner just reinforced and revealed the depth of the lack of cooperation that was damaging to the integrity of the game, and the clincher was Brady’s lawyer stating that Brady had the phone destroyed the same day Brady was to be before the commissioner. Brady’s excuse was that he always destroys his phones. This destroyed cell phone is Brady’s “smoking gun” and where there is smoke, there is fire.
The question today, that everyone is asking is, “Why, if you did nothing wrong, would you not let your own lawyers vet you phone, get the needed emails and texts, and return the phone to Brady, and then give the evidence that clears your name to the NFL?” Clearly, Brady thinks he is above the rules. Clearly he is showing classic signs of having things to hide. What are they? And why?
Here is a great summary of it all by NFL.COM’s Judy Battista – Commissioner’s Ruling Casts Shadow on Tom Brady’s Credibility
No One is Above Scrutiny
People will argue, that Brady did not break the “law”. Well this is not an issue of state passed laws that are binding for all citizens. The “rules” that Brady has violated are rules about the protecting of the integrity of the game of football, and failure to comply to the NFL rules for players and the fairness in game play implied by these agreed upon rules. The NFLPA signed off on the commissioner being the final arbiter of all decisions. Brady has lost this fight. He may choose to launch a lawsuit, but even there, the NFL has beat him and his team to the punch.
Mike Florio reported that Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg reported on 28 July, that the NFL was launching what I would call a “preemptive strike”, a preemptive lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan, seeking the court to affirm the outcome of the Tom Brady appeal. Most people thought that if the appeal failed, which it did, that the NFL would launch a suit in Minneapolis which has a judge that has been “player friendly” in the past. The previous CBA had that court in Minneapolis rule on past appeals, and that court is not guaranteed in the new CBA. This makes a whole lot of difference for the outcome of this case.
The NFL would have launched this court action, in order to choose the playing field for a potential court battle. The NFL is looking to have a “declaratory judgment” under the Federal Arbitration Act, which would be used to substantiate and support the commissioner’s ruling. Many in the media were taken aback by the move as it undercut the NFLPA and Brady, who would prefer to have the court battle in “player friendly” Minnesota where Judge David Doti has rendered favorable rulings for players in the past. This is all about looking for the best and most likely successful place that would ensure a favorable outcome for the NFL. It looks like the NFLPA now will get the ball, and they will need to decide if they will sue, and which court they will pursue, and then the battle royal about which court will yield to which other court. There is a great battle beginning to take shape here for the reputation of player, the NFL and for the respective fans and ownership. They are all acting like they have a stake in the outcome!
So, Again, Why Does This Matter?
Simple, you and I in our workplace have policy manuals, we have agreements in place that have provincial laws to protect workers, and also laws that define the kind of work you do if you work in a heavily legislated industry or business. People get suspended for breaking company policies and rules all the time. Students in schools have to comply to an agreed code of conduct and behavior. We finds these kind of agreed upon rules of engagement and work and play in all sectors of our society. The NFL is just one of many professional entities that has a brand to protect, and a business to promote and increase its brand around the globe.
Players are a brand just as much as the league. This is no different in other corporate, be it business or non-profit. When brand is affected by the behavior of one of its main voices and personalities, the entire brand becomes affected, and in truth, the perception is often more real than the actual.
Last week in my previous post, I mentioned the demise of Mark Driscoll, formerly of March Hill Church in Seattle and Acts 29 Network. The perception of the abuses committed by Mark Driscoll against others, and how badly these all were, was more real in some cases than others, and it went on for a consistently long period of time. The perceptions of Brady, and the Pats go back a decade, where cheating allegations were increasing over time, and came to head previously with the Spygate scandal. In both cases, key personalities took advantage of their situations, and did not do much to cooperate with investigations and accountability. Both showed a measure of ambivalence toward being held to a higher standard.
This kind of behavior can happen in any sector where humans interact and engage with others in the pursuit of some kind of mutual endeavor. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It can happen to you and to me.
So What Do We Do About It?
As a Christian and as a fan of the game of the NFL, this intrigues me, as this will likely go to court. There will really be no winners here. Both the NFL and Brady and the NFLPA will take a hit in the public eye. This is just another scandal that will mar the history of the NFL. The NFL like many human institutions have really dropped the ball when it comes to being pro-active in dealing with player breaches of conduct and other NFL issues. They have at times been very human, showing a propensity for over-reaching and overacting and some would say, being “anal retentive”. I would say that there is more than enough fault to go around, and that until both sides admit to the problems, there will be ongoing visits with arbitrators and courts.
What About “We”, “Us”, In the Land of Living Our Ordinary Lives?
We you and I are affected by this in some rather simple and yet profound ways. My own conclusions from this issue are these.
- No one is above being accountable. There is a crisis of personal responsibility and accountability in our society and popular culture. No one is above accountability, be they Justin Bieber, Tom Brady, Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, or you, or me. No one. We are all accountable for our actions.
- Behaviors are developed over time, from childhood, to school, to our professional development in the work force. Behaviors can be modified, can be changed, both for the good and for the not so good, look at Mark Driscoll and his devolution to the point where he had to resign from his church and ministry. Another Christian example is that of Ted Haggard, who lost his church and ministry as well for a season. Look at other people who because of their issues, had to shut down their business, and leave town in the middle of the night, and move to a new town and start over.
- Success can blind out to our own human frailty and weakness. Brady almost went undrafted. He was selected in the 7th He has always had a chip on his shoulder and an attitude that he is the best and is going to prove it. Success with a coach who had failed as a head coach not once but twice before he had success in New England, and having to prove himself over and over and being successful, and it seems to have gotten into both their heads. They seem to take challenges and then work to overcome, but as Spygate and Inflategate shows, your quest for success can blind you about your own self, and how and what you do to achieve success. There is a right way to do it and there is a wrong way. Now Brady’s recent behavior seems to indicate that he has a blind spot that reveals a tragic flaw in his character. We ourselves need to be aware of our true selves and our own human frailty and our own potential to circumvent situations and bend the rules to get by, or break rules to get ahead.
- People act really weird when they are “caught” like a deer in the head lights. They freeze and really don’t know what to do or say, when they have been exposed by the light that reveals the darkness of the heart and the human condition that would seek to pretend everything is normal, when everything has actually changed. No matter what happens with Brady from here on in, his legacy is tarnished, and his entry into the HOF is not a sure thing, and when people speak of the 4 Lombardy trophies, they will speak of them with asterisks (*) after each one, citing some thing or other as to why it is a marred championship, even the first one, was marred in the march to the championship that resulted in the invention of the “Tuck Rule” which got turfed out after the 2013 season. That game in 2001 should not have been a win for the Pats. Their dynasty started on a bad call. Brady’s behavior much like our own when we are caught not being up front and a straight shooter, reveals a darker side to human nature, even in likeable people. We can deceive ourselves and delude ourselves about ourselves, but we are not fooling anyone. This recent episode with destroying the phone only makes people question Brady and his integrity and it smears his legacy for the future. It is not good for him or for the NFL.
In the end it is about living authentically and ethically moral lives, and being consistent in doing so. When we are caught doing otherwise, we need to step up and admit we were wrong in what we did, and we were wrong to try to conceal it from people. Then we need to put in place measures and processes that make us accountable to people who will hold us accountable, so that we can rebuild and regain the loss of trust and faith the people we love, the people we work with lost through our willful misconduct and misbehavior. Until this happens, our reputations will remain tarnished and our legacies will be diminished.
“I don’t want this for Brady, for Mark Driscoll, for Lance Armstrong, for anyone. I don’t want it for me or my family and loved ones. Let’s get our priorities in order and live honest lives, and it first starts with us being honest with ourselves.” ~ Sam
What will be Tom Brady’s legacy?
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