Support the news

‘DeflateGate’ And The Real Meaning Of The ‘Patriot Way’

Would we really be all that surprised to learn that the team that brought us “spy-gate” has again bent the rules in the name of the almighty win? Pictured: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds the championship trophy after the NFL football AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Would we really be all that surprised to learn that the team that brought us “spy-gate” has again bent the rules in the name of the almighty win? Pictured: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds the championship trophy after the NFL football AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (Matt Slocum/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Before I say anything else, let me offer sincere congratulations to all Patriots fans. This will sound odd coming from a guy who just wrote a whole book called “Against Football,” and especially from an ex-Oakland Raiders fan (please stop laughing) who hasn’t gotten over the "Tuck Rule."

But I’m still a fan at heart and I understand how awesome it feels when your team performs as sensationally as the Pats have this past season.

So to all my friends, especially the ones who rooted for the Pats before they were a perennial powerhouse: mazel tov! If the Raiders had played even half as well as the Pats over the past 15 years, I’m almost sure I would never have written a book about football’s dark side.

I was not the least bit surprised to learn that the Pats used balls that had mysteriously been slightly deflated -- and were therefore easier to throw and catch -- in their romp over the Colts...

Having said all this, let me offer a few choice thoughts about what has come to be known over the years as the “Patriot Way,” a phrase we’ll be hearing over and over in the run-up to Super Bowl XLIX.

In its most idealistic form, the Patriot Way is a collectivist ethos: no single player is more important than the team. You don’t showboat or bellyache to the media about your playing time or your contract terms. Shut up and #doyourjob.

There are obvious virtues associated with this mindset: self-sacrifice, humility, stoicism. Tom Brady is the poster boy for the Patriot Way. He works tirelessly, eschews distractions and accepts less pay than he could earn elsewhere.

Bill Belichick will go down in history as the preeminent coach of his era because of his uncanny ability to adapt his system to make the best use of his players, even those who lack traditional NFL attributes. (Paging: Julian Edelman!)

But the Patriot Way has a second meaning, one that fans are less apt to discuss. It represents an absolute corporate ethos in which the bottom line — winning games — takes precedent over any other value.

This is why I was not the least bit surprised to learn that the Pats used balls that had mysteriously been slightly deflated — and were therefore easier to throw and catch — in their romp over the Colts on Sunday.

In this Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015 photo, Colts inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepts a pass intended for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The NFL is investigating whether the Pats deflated footballs that were used in their AFC championship game victory over Colts. (Julio Cortez/AP)
In this Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015 photo, Colts inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepts a pass intended for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The NFL is investigating whether the Pats deflated footballs that were used in their AFC championship game victory over Colts. (Julio Cortez/AP)

To be clear: the Patriots were far better than the Colts and “DeflateGate” will no doubt be blown out of proportion (sorry) for the next few days, as the press mounts their annual campaign to build hype for the big game.

But if it turns out the Pats did seek an extra-legal edge, well, it’s not like anyone should be surprised. Most fans remember the brouhaha surrounding "Spy-gate," in which the Pats were caught videotaping defensive signals during a 2007 game against the New York Jets. The league subsequently fined the Pats and confiscated a draft pick.

Even more chilling, from a human perspective, is the manner in which Belichick treats injuries. Not just in terms of filing false or misleading injury reports, but in terms of pushing players to perform even when doing so endangers them.

The most famous example is Ted Johnson, the middle linebacker who claimed that Belichick pressured him to sustain hard hits in practice while he was still recovering from a serious concussion.

To read Johnson’s full account of what Belichick did is to see this darker version of the Patriot Way in action: a coach who disregarded the long-term health of a loyal player.

In the end, the Patriot Way boils down to an ethos virtually identical to capitalism. Forget morality or empathy or sportsmanship. Just beat the other guy.

My point here isn’t to vilify Belichick or the Patriots. They are only doing what us partisans pay them to do: win at any cost, by any means.

The fans of virtually any other NFL franchise would love to have a coach as bloodless and efficient as Belichick, a coach who “seeks every advantage” and “knows how to get the most out of his guys.”

In the end, the Patriot Way boils down to an ethos virtually identical to capitalism. Forget morality or empathy or sportsmanship. Just beat the other guy.

Football can feel a lot like religion at this time of year, especially as we ramp up to our national passion play. But we should be honest about the real object of our devotion. We love the grace and courage of particular players, the suspense and the spectacle of the game. But in the end, we worship winning.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news