Footballs aren’t the only thing deflated. News that the “NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots‘ 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL’s requirements” may make it harder for the casual fan to root for the Pats in good conscience.
“America hates both of these teams right now,” joked Pats fan Bill Simmons on his “The B.S. Report” podcast. He’s not wrong. I’m not suggesting this will impact ratings; it won’t. But it might kill some of the joy for fans who may find it hard to root for either squad.
On one side of the ball, you have the Seattle Seahawks, denizens of the Pacific Northwest, a region that is often forgotten. People root for stars, and it’s unclear whether or not quarterback Russell Wilson’s cloying humility is sincere or a put-on — whether he is devout of sanctimonious. The verdict is still out. But other Seahawks are even less likable. Cornerback Richard Sherman, who was injured during the Seahawks victory over the Packers, is the most obnoxious trash-talker in the game, and utterly impossible to root for. And let’s not forget crotch-grabbing Marshawn Lynch, who clearly hates reporters.
On the other side of the ball, you have the New England Patriots, who, like the New York Yankees, are easy to hate by virtue of their success. (This is probably compounded by the recent success of the Boston Red Sox, and by the fact that there’s something about Bostonians that seems to rub some people the wrong way — at least, this is how I felt when Mitt Romney based his presidential campaign there).
Pats Coach Bill Belichick seems to relish and nurture his reputation as an unlikable curmudgeon. Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is on trial for murder. And though, in recent years, I’ve developed a grudging admiration for Pats QB Tom Brady, he’s remarkably easy for men to hate, simply by virtue of his good looks, model wife, and UGGs.
And, of course, this isn’t their first time the Pats have been busted cheating. Before “Deflate-gate” there was “Spygate.” (Note: You might be thinking that we should quit adding “gate” to the end of every little scandal. But I think it’s appropriate here. The sad thing is that, like Nixon and Watergate, the Pats didn’t need to cheat in order to beat the Indianapolis Colts.)
It’s easy to see how the causal fan might have a hard time picking the lesser of two evils. Having adopted the Pats as my playoff team (the Redskins weren’t even in contention), I now fall into this conundrum. But it’s not merely an obstacle for people like me. I’ve yet to check in with TheDC’s resident Pats fan, Neil Patel, but in a Facebook post, CNN’s John Berman, a lifelong Pats fan, demonstrated the moral and ethical challenges this revelation presents for die hard fans:
I am 42 years-old, and have been a New England Patriots fan for 42 years plus-nine months when you include that pre-natal season. (While your mother was listening to Mozart, mine was listening to Gil Santos talk about Jim Plunkett.) In fact, at this point in my life, I essentially do only 3 things: 1) Anchor at CNN, 2) help raise twin 7 year-old boys, and 3) root for Boston Sports teams. And if I am being honest, the one I am best at is #3. I am a really good Boston sports fan. There are few better. And the Patriots are ruining all my hard work, debasing my skills, and tainting the hours upon hours of joy that fandom gave me.
This is an existential crisis. How can you root for a cheater? How can you award malfeasance? How can you cheer a con? You can’t. At least you shouldn’t. I shouldn’t cheer for the Patriots. I know that, no matter what my genetic coding says.
(One imagines this makes it hard for fans who have young children who watch games with them, as well.)
In a world where entertainment media increasingly celebrates the brooding anti-hero, it is perhaps fitting that our greatest sports contest would also deprive us of the moral clarity a proper Manichean struggle might provide. At this point, I’m left wondering: Can’t they both lose?