‘Deflate-Gate’ proves Age-old History Repeating

Published: January 30, 2015 | Author: Alex Homer | Read Time: 3 minutes

SUU sports historian proves age-old history of cheating in sportsJust days before the most anticipated sporting event in the U.S. and estimations of more than 100 million Super Bowl Sunday viewers, one moniker is grabbing all the headlines: Deflate-Gate.

A storm of controversy swirling around the Patriots’ 45–7 pounding of the Indianapolis Colts has left an entire sports nation with one question: was it skill or a missing ball pump? Patriot support for the 2015 AFC Champs flattened when word broke that the team possibly underinflated its footballs before the conference finals game that carried the Patriots into the 2015 Super Bowl.

To the casual sports fan underinflating a football seems elementary, but according to Southern Utah University Quarterback Aaron Cantu, this form of cheating gives a distinct upper hand.

“With less air in the ball, the quarterback is able to sink his fingers into the football more, get more accuracy, more zip [on the ball], and the receivers are able to make catches easier.”

Whether or not the game balls in question were intentionally underinflated is yet to be determined. But with a track record like the Patriots’ there is little room for doubt within the court of public opinion. In 2007 the Patriots were caught in the “Spy-Gate” cheating scandal when Head Coach Bill Belichick was accused of videotaping the New York Jets defensive signals during a game. The team received a $500,000 fine and the loss of a draft pick.

Eight years later, here we are again. History seems to repeat itself when the Patriots really need to win. But, according to one SUU professor, this is not nearly as surprising as the fact that it doesn’t happen more often.

“If you are competing for glory, fame, money, notoriety or a trophy, you are more likely to cheat,” according to David Lunt, sports historian and associate professor of history at SUU. “If you are getting your reward from an external source, that’s when the cheating happens.”

According to Lunt, cheating isn’t a recent mechanism to defeat one’s opponent, going as far back as the Greeks, who hired magicians to curse their opponents and erected statues of Zeus to scare would-be cheaters of Zeus’ vengeance. Though cheaters were given heavy fines even then, charlatans still cheated, just as fines today do not seem to deter the Patriots from bending the rules to win a champion’s fame.

However, as Lunt points out, it’s hard to know where the line is drawn between cheating and gaining advantage from both an ethical and even a lawful standpoint.

“There’s all sorts of ethical implications tied up here,” said Lunt. “Is deflating a football as bad as taking performance enhancers? That’s what the [Seattle] Seahawks did. It’s hard to know what’s worse. In baseball, using steroids is worse than corking a bat, but both are considered cheating, so is there a difference between cheating before the game and during the game?”

The other possible angle of defense for the Deflate-triots seems to be claims the team and its quarterback, Tom Brady, were unaware their footballs were underinflated per the NFL bylaws—a defense Cantu is quick to debunk.

“As a quarterback, you check out the footballs before the game to feel them,” Cantu explains of standard practice at even the collegiate level. “If there’s anything wrong, you tell the equipment guy to fix it right away.”

With an investigation on hold until after Super Bowl Sunday, Lunt is left to speculate, based on thousands of years of evidence, that the punishment will need to be much more severe than fines and draft picks to scare the Patriots—or any other team for that matter—from cheating again.

Lunt explains that the NFL’s pattern has set a precedent that fines will be the punishment for cheating. But the organization cannot expect multimillionaire athletes to abide by the rules with such large extrinsic rewards on the line.

At least, that’s what history has proven.

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