Deflategate: Does the NFL really care about character?

I haven’t ruminated as hard as I have over deflategate in years. I’ve read the report in its entirety more than once and have become obsessed, studying every article, reading every #deflategate hashtag, and discussing it at every opportunity.

I am angry. How is cheating acceptable? This has compromised the integrity of the game! And what consequence will there be? This is a systemic problem! Alas! Woe is me! What the hell is going on in the NFL?

The answer, quite simply, is nothing unusual for the NFL or society in general.

The NFL who brought us deflategate is the same NFL in which:

  • Ernie Holmes shot at a police helicopter in 1973 and managed to continue playing in the for 5 years.

  • Myron Rolle's decision to accept a Rhodes scholarship and study at Oxford for a year was labeled a weakness in scouting reports. His commitment to football was called into question. Mind you, his year off wasn’t due to physical injury or off-field crimes. Studying at Oxford was the red-flag.

  • Ray Rice knocked out his fiance, for which he was initially suspended only two games. Then, indefinitely. (Equivocate much, Goodell?)

  • Aaron Hernandez, for a while, maintained a career as both a tight end, and a murderer.

  • Michael Vick had a side business as a proprietor of a dog-fighting ring.

The NFL’s double-standards-- or, apparent complete lack of standards is baffling too. For example:

  • Ray Rice was banned indefinitely by the same league that drafted-- without qualms-- players who engaged in the same types of offenses. In what other industry are new employees hired who have committed the same infractions other employees were fired for?

  • Sean Payton was guilty by association during bountygate and was suspended for an entire year. In the case of deflategate,the NFL almost overemphasized that the scandal did not extend beyond Brady and the two equipment managers. Payton wasn’t offering bounties or paying them, so how is this different in terms of potential consequence for Belichik and company?

  • In 2010 Brett Favre was fined by the NFL for failing to cooperate with the investigation about potential harassment. Granted, cooperating would have probably meant that Favre would have had to turn over pictures of his penis, but he faced consequences anyway. Where in the deflategate conversation is Brady’s lack of cooperation?

  • Former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor was suspended five games by the NFL for taking impermissible benefits while in college-- before he was drafted into the NFL. (Tell me again how much money college football programs make off of their athletes?)

  • Finally-- for the purposes of this article only, there are countless examples-- Josh Gordon was suspended for at least a year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy (over and over again). So, two games for knocking out your fiance, three games for DUI and pointing a gun at people, but an entire year for smoking some dope?

The arbitrariness of punishments and the NFL’s interpretation of the term "character" can be both confusing and infuriating. The NFL happens to be a very popular, high-profile organization and part of our country’s cultural backbone. (I’m assuming people who disagree with the last part of that statement wouldn't be reading a football blog and that the people who are taking the time to read this would agree.) It is upsetting to think that the organization to which we fans devote countless hours a week-- between games, water-cooler conversations, fantasy football leagues-- has so little regard for character and integrity.

The truth is, we encounter poor character everywhere. It can be found in all sectors of our society from education to law enforcement to our own households. The Catholic church has dealt with issues of depraved character within its ranks. A disturbing number of educators have been caught in compromising situations, whether it be a principal smoking marijuana and hooking up with a student in a car, other teachers who take advantage of students sexually, or instructors who facilitate cheating on standardized tests. Politicians also have a history of questionable character. Ted Kennedy was implicated in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969 and went on to have a very long, successful career as a senator. There are countess other examples of poor morals among our politicians. There are plenty of examples of ethical, legal, and moral problems in law enforcement as well. Point is, the NFL is not the only organization struggling with character and consequences for bad character.

I had my own run-in with bad character (understatement) as a young swimmer. My coach-perpetrator is in jail now. At his sentencing, after he had plead guilty, the owner of his team spoke for him and called him a man of impeccable character. Huh? He admitted to child sexual assault and he can still be a person of impeccable character? The NFL does not have a corner on the confusing-interpretation-of-character market. Far from it.

What does all of this mean? Do we boycott schools? Refuse to vote? Stay away from swimming pools and youth sports? My answer is a resounding "no." And, I don’t see any of us abandoning the NFL either.

It is disturbing that this latest scandal involved an ongoing attempt to gain an advantage in competitive play and thereby undermine the integrity of the game. On the other hand, fans can no longer feign surprise and feel outrage at NFL’s track record on issues pertaining to character. This is not a new problem, and it is not a problem specific to the NFL.

Perhaps, though, we fans like getting worked up every once in a while. Maybe a good dose of righteous indignation makes us feel better about our own character. Could it be that these scandals and character lapses make the NFL more entertaining? And, in the end, isn't that what the NFL is all about? Expecting more might just set us all up for disappointment and outrage.

The opinions shared here are not those of the editorial staff of Behind the Steel Curtain or SB Nation. These posts are not approved in any way by the editorial staff of this web site.