Wow. That was quick. The NFL brought the hammer down on Teflon Tom Brady, with a four-game suspension that apparently represents the most severe penalty ever handed out to a quarterback for “violating the game’s honor code.”
I myself was not aware that football — a game so ruthless that nearly one in three pros will wind up with brain damage — had an honor code. But then, you learn something new every day.
The central lesson to be drawn from this mess we’ve agreed to call "DeflateGate" is that the basic ingredients of Greek Drama hold up quite well, even in a helmet and shoulder pads. For here is a story Aristotle would have recognized as archetypal: the hero brought low by a power greater than himself.
Brady denies knowing anything about anything. Probably he is thinking, <em>How big a deal can this be? We won the game 45-7.</em>
The hero, of course, is Tom Brady, handsome, rich, poised, valorous, the kind of guy who might have given Achilles an inferiority complex. As Act I begins, Brady has just won his fourth Super Bowl and earned his place in the pantheon of gridiron Immortals. He is the Best Quarterback Ever, or One of the Best Ever, depending on which sports columnist you favor. Just for good measure, he’s married to the most beautiful woman on earth.
Alas, along comes Act II, in which Fate intervenes. A question arises as to the firmness of Brady’s balls, the ones he uses in his particular form of combat. Owing to an inexplicable oversight, you see, the NFL — rather than forcing both teams to use balls inflated to the same weight by league officials — allows team personnel to carry out this task themselves.
Here, our first true villain arises: Temptation. For Brady, like any great warrior, looks for any possible advantage over his opponent. And he knows that a slightly under-inflated ball will be slightly easier to handle and throw.
The men who prepare the balls — minor figures thrust awkwardly into the glare of starring roles — know this as well. So much so that one of them refers to himself as “the Deflator,” a rather unlikely title for high drama, but you take what you can get these days.
Naturally, as Act III opens, a Greek Chorus of sport pundits descends.
Now, Brady has a decision to make. He could simply admit to these jackals that he likes his balls prepared a certain way, like any quarterback. And that he trusts the equipment guys to adhere to his wishes, as best they can within the legal limits. But Brady is not used to having his integrity questioned, in particular by moralizing twerps who have never even been in battle.
And so a second, more damning villain is made known -- Hubris. Brady denies knowing anything about anything. Probably he is thinking, How big a deal can this be? We won the game 45-7. It’s not like I’m in some post-modern Greek Drama.
For a time, it seems a wise strategy. Brady goes on to win the Super Bowl in thrilling fashion. He continues to be very handsome. The story withers.
...even the most blessed and powerful of characters will fall from grace if their only motive is the desire to win a game.
Now comes Act IV: Comeuppance. Like a thunderbolt, the Gods deliver a detailed report implying, if never quite proving, that Brady has cheated and lied about cheating. The Greek Chorus goes nuts, and league officials — always eager to defend the integrity of a game with very little integrity — banish him from the field of battle for four whole games, pending appeal.
A sanctimonious din is heard from all the fans of all the teams defeated by Brady, while his supporters are left to gnash teeth and rend official NFL gear.
The big winners here are the audience and the Greek Chorus, of course. At no expense to their own conscience, they get to partake in the profit and pleasures of judgment.
Almost no consideration is given to the drab moral of the story, which is that even the most blessed and powerful of characters will fall from grace if their only motive is the desire to win a game.
Steve Almond is the author of the book “Against Football.”