Here is a statement that should not come as news to anybody: In modern-day football, being good at cheating is every bit as important as being good at tackling. Fact. And what’s more, the only thing that separates the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots from the NFL’s other 30 teams is that these are the only two that have been adversely judged, condemned and therefore scapegoated.
The world of sport is undoubtedly painted from a colorful palette but, as anybody who has ever mixed paints will know, when colors inevitably overlap, grey areas quickly appear. And it is precisely these twilight zones that time and again exert a dark and all-too-often irresistible pull on the will of sportsmen whose primary desire is simply to succeed. Moreover, I would suggest that most of us would perhaps be more inclined to cross the fine line between cheating and competing than we would care to admit.
Picture if you will that you are playing at safety for the New York Giants in the Superbowl against the Patriots. Rob Gronkowski – heavily taped ankle and all – has just caught a pass over the middle, and you are in position to lay a hit on him. Can you honestly tell me that you are not going to think of going in low and targeting the damaged ankle so that for the rest of the day the ‘Gronk’ is not your problem?
In all reasonable terms, I would expect that plenty of NFL safeties certainly would hit the ankle, and this begs the question of whether that kind of behaviour is morally acceptable or if it actually amounts to cheating. Maybe you might agree that all of this is a matter of intent, and therefore if the tackler accidentally or thoughtlessly attacks the ankle then his behaviour is okay. So, that being the case, before we can even attempt to answer any question relating to morality, we must first look at another issue and ask ourselves if it is possible for us to ever know the true intention of another human-being.
We are all fully aware of what Gregg Williams said about “killing the head” during his pre-game playoff psych-up against the 49ers, but how certain can we be of the intention behind that statement? Were his words spoken in the hope that they would be taken literally or metaphorically? Who knows and, really, who cares, because the simple fact that matters is this: only a kangaroo court such as the one presided over by commissioner Roger Goodell would even consider the possibility of convicting the accused based upon an assumption that effectively amounts to mind-reading. In essence, Mr Goodell’s verdict on the whole bounty fiasco had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with being seen to be in control.
The same can be said about the Patriots and the infamous saga of the stolen signals: if Bill Belichick intentionally and knowingly broke the NFL rules then he is, plainly and simply, a cheat. But, equally and oppositely, if he genuinely did not know that he was doing anything illegal then surely his actions can only be described as naïve at worst. Again, we have to accept that we cannot be certain of which possibility is true.
Unfortunately, however, there is one thing that we can all be sure of: when human-beings first invented competition, they also created the potential for cheating. And with so much at stake in the modern game, the unspeakable truth is that cheating has become an integral part of the playbook. Furthermore, in the same way that fans bemoan the fact that Darrelle Revis constantly evades pass interference flags, or that some offensive linemen are more likely to be called for holding than others are, some teams are good at cheating whereas others are more likely to get caught.
So maybe it’s just time for us sports fans to stop whining about this whole business of cheating – be it on the field with a fake injury or off it with an attempt at hijacking the opposition’s playbook – and begin instead to appreciate it for what it actually is.
Yes, the sad but inescapable reality is that when all the arguments and opinions are balanced and weighed off against one another, we are left to contemplate a sporting landscape where the once questionable business of ‘getting away with it’ has now become a skill.
What are your thoughts on the Saints and Patriots? Let us know in the comments!