It's been a few days. I hate when life gets in the way of football. But what better way to get back into the blogging groove than to analyze the just-announced suspension of one of football's most polarizing figures.
Unless your last 24 hours were spent disconnected from society (perhaps you were swimming 26 miles to shore after falling off your fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic), you've heard that Patriots QB Tom Brady, a shoe-in future Hall of Famer, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season. An NFL investigation determined he willingly played a role in deflating footballs below league standards during the Patriots' 45-7 playoff win over the Colts last season.
Patriots fans and non-fans are livid, but for diametrically opposite reasons. Fans, not surprisingly, find the punishment draconian. Many have made the comparison to Ray Rice, whom the league originally suspended only two games for a one-punch KO of his then-fiancee (now wife) in a casino elevator. It's still murky whether Goodell or any other NFL official with decision-making cachet had seen the now-infamous video of Rice's left hook, but what happened in the elevator, video or not, was never in question. Almost universal agreement exists that Goodell's subsequent bumping of Rice's ban from two games to indefinite was a pure PR move in response to public outrage after seeing the video.
Non-fans, also unsurprisingly, think Brady got off easier than a 15-year-old receiving his first handie. I tend to agree with them, which makes sense really, seeing that I'm a zealous Patriots non-fan. To me, invoking Rice as a comparison when analyzing Brady's punishment is misguided. What Ray did was atrocious, but it's apples and oranges with Brady's misdeeds. Domestic violence is a far worse crime against humanity than equipment tampering (new masturbation euphemism?), but at the same time, it confers no on-the-field advantage. The NFL should deal with both swiftly and severely, but each should exist in its own realm, and comparisons between the two should be made sparingly.
A better Brady comparison is A-Rod. Different sport, but same crime category--blatantly operating outside the league's clearly-set parameters to gain a competitive advantage. More parallels exist: Brady's cheating, followed by a strident denial (enhanced by an impressive affectation of umbrage at the idea his honesty would be called into question), and finally a defiant receiving of his punishment while maintaining he did no wrong mirrors A-Rod's trajectory in 2013. The slugger repeatedly feigned offense at suggestions he was using PEDs, then continued to proclaim his innocence even as reality set in that his baseball career was embarking on a long hiatus.
They even have the deflated balls thing in common, at least if you believe doctors' warnings about prolonged steroid use.
So how do their punishments stack up? For starters, A-Rod was absent from 162 games (one full season), which is exactly 40.5 times as many games as Brady is set to miss. Granted, that probably isn't a fair comparison since a MLB season features 10 times as many games as an NFL season. A better measure would be percentage of season missed. A-Rod, 100%; Brady, 25%. Plus A-Rod was required to miss the playoffs. A stark contrast without question, and while vastly different means were used, they ultimately committed the same crime.
One possible justification for A-Rod's more severe punishment is that PED use presumably improved his play for more than just one game. But no definitive proof exists that he was on steroids for a full season, or that the steroids he used stayed in his system long enough to have a prolonged effect on his play, or that there weren't extended periods in which he was "clean" and therefore a regular, non-enhanced A-Rod as opposed to the A-Roid who drew the hefty punishment. Nor is it clear that Brady's transgressions were limited to the single game in which he was caught.
My stance is that MLB got it right with A-Rod, while the NFL shanked the kick with Brady. Professional sports is a multi-billion dollar industry entirely dependent on fans' emotional (which translates to financial) investment in the game. Few things have the potential to wither away fan support like the idea the league is willing to stand by idly and allow cheaters to compromise the integrity of the game. No fan wants to watch a game in which one team enjoys an ill-begotten advantage over the other. Would you watch a professional tennis match if one player were allowed to hit a foot beyond the baseline, or a golf tournament where a particular player gets a stroke shaved off every hole?
To be honest, I think the only way to level the playing field where PEDs are concerned is legalize them, with players assuming any long-term health risks from their use. Likewise, I don't see the harm in letting teams inflate or deflate footballs to whatever level they want. But everyone has to play by the same rules. And as long as a rule is in place, whether you like it or not, whether the rule even makes sense or not, it should be your responsibility to follow it lest you receive just desserts that are harsh and unbending. Cheating, whether through illegal supplementation, tampering with equipment, surreptitiously recording opponents' practices, or any other nefarious means these guys probably hire people full-time to conjure up, should mean a full season doing something else for a living for the guilty party or parties.
With that kind of disincentive applied across the board in all pro sports, I think we'd see players being a lot more honest. Missing four games for cheating is nothing, especially when your impropriety leads to a Super Bowl win and the millions in contract bonuses and endorsement deals that inevitably follows. Methinks Tom Brady would do it again. After all, it certainly wasn't the Patriots' first time under his reign.
A-Rod, meanwhile, has been a choir boy since his reinstatement.
Punish cheaters, and punish them severely. If Brady is the best ever, or even top five, he can throw a damn football with a little more hot air in it. Otherwise, any GOAT argument featuring his name is, well, hot air.