HOUSTON, May 14, 2015 — Shallow thinkers pining over fallen hero Tom Brady are insisting that his four-game suspension for illegally deflating footballs is too severe. Ray Rice was suspended for only two games for punching his then-fiancée in the face.
Those desperate to make excuses for Brady are using Rice’s situation as a fig leaf. After all, is what Brady did really worse than what Rice did?
Actually, yes. Well, sort of.
This is where hysterical people unwilling and unable to separate reason from emotion do what hysterical people unwilling and unable to separate reason from emotion do.
Football is a game. Far too many sports fans, emotional themselves, confuse sports with life and death. Those who understand the difference understand that what affects society at large is far more important than the result of a sporting event.
From a societal standpoint, committing an act of physical assault against an innocent victim is far more serious than deflating footballs. The former merits a prison term, while the latter barely rises above a summer camp prank. From a societal standpoint, Rice’s actions were far more serious than anything Brady did.
From a football standpoint, and only from a football standpoint, Brady’s act was Armageddon.
Rice violated the American legal system. At worst, he could have been sentenced to prison. The circle of pain is limited to him, his family and his teammates. His teammates would quickly move on and find a player to replace him. That happens every year in the NFL draft and free agency.
Brady did not break any laws, but he cheated the game of football itself. Imagine what would happen if Brady were not punished.
People watch professional sports because they believe it is one of the last places on Earth where merit matters. Hard work and talent are rewarded. Not everyone gets a trophy. Very few ever do. Race, religion and ethnicity are irrelevant. Results are the sole determinant of who plays and who wins.
If people believe that football has lost its integrity, they stop watching football. While that will lead to several hundred unemployed multi-millionaires, it will also inflict plenty of financial hardship on hot dog vendors and those selling peanuts and cotton candy. An entire football economy could collapse.
Cheating in sports kills sports. It disgraces everything we teach our children about how and why sports are a force for good.
Ray Rice committed a crime against one woman. Tom Brady committed a crime against an entire sport.
Ray Rice’s crime can be prevented from spreading through intense counseling and the threat of expulsion from the league. Greg Hardy recently received a suspension of 10 games for domestic abuse. The problem is fixable.
There is no fix for cheaters. The NFL understood this when it suspended a pair of superstars 50 years ago who were every bit as important to the NFL as Tom Brady is now.
Green Pay Packers running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras were superstars. They were also caught gambling on NFL games. Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers had just won NFL Titles in 1961 and 1962. The Packers were trying to win three in a row, and the Lions were trying to stop them. Commissioner Pete Rozelle did not give star players special treatment. Hornung and Karras were suspended for the entire 1963 season.
Neither player broke any laws. They just compromised the integrity of football.
Rice’s problem is not a football problem. The NFL can lead by example for public relations reasons, but is only obligated to stay out of the way and let the legal system run its course.
Brady’s problem is a football problem. There is no other controlling legal authority to deal with him. The NFL has to crack down, and crack down hard.
So for those who want to deal with domestic violence, consult an attorney. Find a courtroom. For those who want to deal with cheating in sports, understand why the sports leagues must handle this. If the league does nothing about Rice, the law still can. If the league does nothing about Brady, he is untouchable and more players will be emboldened to cheat.
Rice broke the law, but not his oath to football. Brady violated the promise players make when they enter the NFL to respect the game.
Rice disgraced himself. Brady disgraced the league and the game of football.
In the world of football, away from the rest of society and its social causes, what Brady did was far worse than what Ray Rice did.