SportsProf

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Boston Whine Party

Employee breaks rules.

Employer investigates.

Employee destroys information.

Employee refuses to cooperate in investigation.

In most cases, employee gets fired.  No severance, no nothing, just a quick and quiet exit.

Unless, of course, you are a star pro football player, your enabling fans and admirers tell you that everything you do is okay, and you are a member of a union that has a collective bargaining agreement with work rules that protect you.

Fine, the union will stand up for the player, and the player has money to fight the punishment.  And, yes, everyone is entitled to a defense.  But. . .

The NFL hired an investigator with impeccable credentials.  The investigator did a thorough job in investigating what happened.  The NFL also has major credibility problems, and if professional sports don't enforce rules that affect the integrity of the outcome of any came, what do they have?  Most certainly not the fans' trust or belief that the game is credible.  Baseball took a huge it because of the handwave it gave to the steroids problem until the public outcry became so loud (as did the bulk of the players).  Soccer has problems because of FIFA's bribery scandal.  And cycling became a joke when it became clear that international icon Lance Armstrong was a fraud.

Organizations show integrity when they take stands that could cost them money or tarnish their image temporarily, when they admit that they are human and vulnerable and, yes, this star transgressed and will be held accountable.  That's the way the system should work.  This issue about Deflategate should not be that huge a deal -- Brady did wrong, he made a big mistake, and he should get punished for it.  Period.  But instead, he's the saint, the league is terrible, the commissioner is Darth Vader, the league is inconsistent on punishment, and Brady is a victim.  Wow, that's something. 

The fact of the matter is that another team complained and that Brady and some cohorts in the New England organization did something wrong.  Look, it isn't even the first time teams in the league did something wrong this past season, as one if not two teams were punished for pumping in extra crowd noise during games this year.  And those stories came and went because, well, the behavior was wrong, their was no excuse and perhaps because the stories didn't involve one of the best quarterbacks of all time and the Super Bowl champions.  (Yet, steroids issues in baseball involved all-stars and the cycling scandal involved the best rider of all time).  Somehow, the whole conversation of this is skewed because of very difficult facts involving domestic abuse cases, the intertwining of off-the-field matters with the league's code of conduct policy, letting the justice system take its course and many tough situations.  I am not defending the league's handling of the Ray Rice case.  That said, how the league handled those matters should not cloud the league's or anyone's judgment about how it should handle a matter that affects the integrity of the game.

The issue here is that the league must take a stand that no player is above honoring the rules of the game and also fair play.  Sure, we can take shots at the league for enforcing "no celebration" penalties and "keep your shirt tucked in" rules.  But if the league cannot discipline Tom Brady, what message is it sending?  That you need to try to cheat to be great?  That if you pile up numbers you are so valuable to us that we cannot hold you accountable? 

Again, everyone is entitled to a defense, and Brady and the players' association are well within their rights to exhaust their remedies.  And perhaps the investigator and league got it wrong.  But if, on its face, Brady had a role in telling those equipment guys to deflate footballs (and especially in light of the fact that the Colts had warned the league about this before) and then perhaps destroyed evidence and failed to cooperate, he should be happy with a four-game suspension and just walk away.

But most people in the workplace would get fired.

Star or not.

There cannot be two sets of rules -- one for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and the Patriots and one for everyone else. 

And that is Roger Goodell's and the league's point.

And it's a good one.

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