Whatever Happened To Sportsmanship?

Tom Brady’s involvement in Deflategate is further evidence of the decline of sports. At their best, sports teach the benefits of teamwork, hard work, determination, fairness and sportsmanship. But over the years, those attributes have been replaced by the effects of money and swollen egos. Witness the seeming indifference by the New England Patriots when caught spying on practices of opposing teams and Tom Brady’s ridicule of those who have suggested that manipulating the air pressure in footballs gave him an unfair advantage.

Unfortunately, Brady and the Patriots are not alone. When it was discovered that an Auburn University booster paid Cam Newton’s father at least $100,000 to influence his son to attend the school, no punishment was meted out to either the quarterback or the university. When it was determined that a Big 10 basketball program had broken NCAA recruiting rules, the fans howled with righteous indignation that “everybody does the same thing.” When Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, was found to have received thousands in cash to attend USC, he faced no greater penalty than volunteering to return his Heisman Trophy but the school was banned from post-season play for two years. And when Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston was accused of raping a Florida State student, he not only continued to play for the university. He was rewarded by becoming the NFL’s number one draft choice.

In the NBA, it was well-known that the league had two sets of rules: those for Michael Jordan and those for everybody else. An NBA official was found to have influenced the outcome of a playoff game. He was fired and paid a price. But the entire affair was quickly swept under the rug.

Cheating in sports has become so commonplace that fans of the self-proclaimed nation’s best collegiate football league, the SEC, brag “If you’re not cheating, you’re not really trying.”

It hasn’t always been this way.

When “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox were believed to have thrown the World Series, he and several of his teammates were banned from baseball even though there was little evidence of their transgressions. Pete Rose was banned from baseball and the Hall of Fame when it was found that he had bet on other Major League games, even though there was no evidence that he bet on his own games. But, today, it seems the only sports figures held accountable for breaking the rules are children. This past year, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team was stripped of its Little League title when it was determined that it had fielded players from outside its designated area.

Shouldn’t today’s collegiate and pro sports figures be held to the same standard?

If it’s serious about protecting the integrity of the league (or, more accurately, establishing some semblance of integrity), the NFL should ban Tom Brady from participation for at least a year. And given the fact that the New England Patriots have been involved in multiple cheating scandals, the NFL should ban the franchise from the playoffs for at least a year. It doesn’t matter that the Patriots almost certainly would have defeated the Colts with properly inflated footballs anyway. How many times have Brady and the Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the past? How many close games have the Patriots won as the result of their cheating? Isn’t that the point? No one knows but Brady and his staff of “deflaters.”

The misguided belief that all teams cheat is no excuse for Brady’s behavior. Not all teams or players cheat. And allowing behavior such as Brady’s only cheapens sports. Severe penalties are the only way to ensure the fairness of sports that are awash in billions of dollars. But I don’t expect the NFL to impose such penalties. It is far more likely that the NFL will suspend Brady for a game or two and fine him a relatively insignificant amount of money if, indeed, it penalizes him at all.

That would be a shame. Without rules, sports are little more than entertainment…and not very good entertainment at that.