The New England Patriots*
The New England Patriots are a powerhouse franchise. Their draft savvy is the envy of many teams, they’ve traded for the right players at the right time, and they’ve signed good free agents. Their coaching staff seems to know the best way to use their players, and their ownership gives the team the financial backing it needs. And oh yeah, they have exceptional video equipment.
“SpyGate” started on September 11th of last year, when NFL officials caught Patriots cameramen videotaping the Jets’ sidelines. And every time it seems the issue could die down, something else will surface and bring the controversy front and center again.
Just last week, linebacker Joey Porter went on record as saying that the Patriots championships should now include an asterisk.
“They [the Patriots] cheated, there should be an asterisk. They cheated and they got caught,” he said.
He also called the fines placed on both the team and Coach Bill Belichick a “slap on the wrist.” And despite the fact that the fine on Belichick was the largest of its kind, I’m inclined to agree. Granted, they also lost a first round draft pick, but considering they still had one to spare it doesn’t seem like it had too drastic of an effect on them.
But using an asterisk? Is that too much? The very mention of that word tends to generate a lot of conversation. It’s become the scarlet letter of sports records and a term you don’t throw around lightly. I expect that you would hear few arguments against slapping an asterisk on the Pats’ success.
First, is the Roger Maris factor.
In Roger Maris’ historic 1961 season, the idea of an asterisk was mentioned because he accomplished the home run record in a baseball season in a 162 game season, as opposed to the 154 game season in which Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. The discussion hurt and discouraged Maris, who was already taking a great deal of criticism for chasing a record held by the iconic Ruth. He later said in 1980, “They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing.”
Maris was treated terribly, and the abuse he took was and is a disgrace. And I believe that because of the experience of Maris, many analysts and experts have been opposed to supporting the use of asterisks on records. That’s understandable. But they are comparing apples to oranges. Questioning the records of those who undermine the rules of the game is a much different than the biased reporters in 1961 who belittled Maris simply because he wasn’t the Babe.
Another argument is Bill Belichick’s claim that he misunderstood the rule. Well, the NFL “Game Operations Manual” says that “no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches’ booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game.” If Bill didn’t understand that, then perhaps he’s not the genius that we think he is.
The final, and most compelling argument, is that if we put a disclaimer on the Pats’ titles where does it all end? If you go down that path it could uncover the multitude of sins that have been committed by teams and players over the years. Putting an asterisk could start an investigation on the rest of the league that would be almost impossible to resolve. And that is a legitimate concern. However, I’m of the opinion that just because you can’t address everything doesn’t mean don’t address anything.
In this case, we already know that Patriots broke a clear rule of the game for several seasons. Think it didn’t give them an advantage? Then why did they keep doing it? Yes, there are probably a number of other ways teams are knowingly cheating, but the clean up has to start somewhere. The NFL earned $4.5 billion in revenue last year. It’s at the point where hefty fines aren’t going to accomplish too much. The checks may not be fun to write, but in the long run they don’t dent the bank accounts too much.
Porter has it right. The Patriots cheated, and I believe they should face the utmost consequences. It’s a shame, because they have had exceptionally talented teams this decade. But their actions have taken away from skill because we’ll never know when they won with talent or when they won with technology.
And no matter what happens in the record books, that unanswerable question will cause many people to think of an asterisk when they think of the Patriots.