Technology vs. Humanity

The (fake) football crisis

I never liked opinion sections on any media. I like facts, not speculations, or so-called analyses which in my opinion are just speculations from “experts” (I come from a culture where publicly speaking experts have no credibility whatsoever so I might be a little biased on the latter one). My critical feelings against media exacerbates as Tom Brady and his deflated footballs keep making national headlines, eclipsing real issues like the earthquake in Nepal or Ted Cruz’s outrageous comments on climate change. Even more inexplicably, people are actually comparing him with Chris Christie’s bridge scandal and some even traced back to Clinton’s. The most outrageous ones go as far as Lance Armstrong’s doping or even Aaron Hernandez’s murder case… I’ll treat those extremes as simply coming from haters and not take them seriously.

I had a hard time getting America, and I think I’m still struggling to get it. First I had completely no idea why Americans are so obsessed this dangerous sport called football, which actually rarely involves kicking the ball with your foot. After I watched a few games and started following it with some of my friends I started to understand the excitement behind all this. To be fair I still think it’s a little overrated in a country where there are so many other awesome sports, but I think I get why people love it so much, especially when seeing their home team winning the Super Bowl, which is not only a sport event but more like a national celebration. Football is an American icon, it’s what makes America different from other places in this world, and it’s always good to have something that other’s don’t.

I don’t understand why suddenly the country becomes so divided when the official report came in and said that “it is more probable than not” that Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” that the Patriots employees deliberately deflated the footballs. If somebody were to ask me about my reaction to this, it will be just simple as this:

Did Tom Brady know that the footballs were deflated? Of course. Not only he knew, it’s almost certain that he asked the two guys to do it.

Do I feel upset about his lying and his response to the press? No, why would I feel upset? If anybody should feel upset that guy should be Tom himself.

I do not feel upset because first, this is just a football game and not a real issue (BTW I don’t get people who keep saying it’s more than just a football game; I think they are probably watching too much football and should really cut back for their own health). Second, to put anybody in Tom’s position, he/she will probably do the same thing. Nobody wants a PR disaster when there isn’t a sign of the disaster yet. Tom may be a super handsome and successful human being, but he is still a human being, and in a large way a great human being. All he did was to work really hard on the career he loves for his life, and maybe a little too hard so that it might have crossed the red line of cheating. Cheating is inexcusable and he definitely owes us an apology on that, but comparing it to political scandals and criminal charges? A little too far.

I’ve read some interesting arguments against Tom Brady, and most of them mention how successful he is, how perfect he is, and how people educate their kids to become a guy like Tom in the future. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that all these arguments can actually be used against Tom Brady, because they are all perfect bullet points for him to write down in case he needs a job interview (probably very soon). And, on educating the kids, no offense but to be fair, most parents would be so proud of their kids if they turn out to be even a third as successful as Tom is, that they wouldn’t mind at all if their kids deflate a couple footballs every now and then. It may be (and probably should be) taken as a joke, but in the meantime, seriously, think about it.

Of course people in the actual media don’t do this kind of “ad-hoc” reasoning and justification. Issues are always raised to a certain height, in this case sports ethics and the integrity of a person who makes millions of dollars a year. It’s pretty easy to instigate hate when you mention how much money a person makes, as if it’s absolutely impossible to make money without doing evil (sorry, Google). But if we really look into this case, are we really seeing any incriminating evidence that Tom is trying hard to cheat? I actually read the report and I think “it’s more probable than not” that he was simply trying to have an edge over his opponents in the game, and something went a little out-of-order that cold evening so that it dropped just below the 12.5 limit. We can criticize him for lying about not knowing anything about deflated footballs, but again, nobody wants a PR disaster when there is no sign of a disaster yet. He’s simply being a rational human being and I don’t understand people who criticize others being rational human beings.

Tom Brady and his football issue is far from a national crisis (or a statewide crisis here in Massachusetts) and is a story that everybody should be able to laugh off (recall what the “E” in ESPN stands for). We always place ourselves in moral high grounds and pick on people as if they did something unacceptable and inferior to us, but actually we ourselves do no better (to some extent this applies to American diplomacy as well, but let’s not talk about politics cuz it’s much less fun…), or even much worse in this case. Tom Brady fights for his dreams hard, is still fighting for them through his late 30s, and helps others through charity. How many people even thought about that and compared it to themselves when leaving hate comments on those hate-instigating news articles? I’m not a diehard Patriots fan, I won’t even call myself following football, but I’m totally on Tom’s side on this issue, because his personality as a human being absolutely does not deserve the profanities we are seeing right now. A local news station anchor made a really good point this afternoon: there are people at the Wall Street cheating all day and costing people jobs or even lives as a consequence, why are we so obsessed about Tom’s footballs as if we haven’t seen people cheat before? “There are worse things” is never a foul-proof argument, but it’s a good alarm to always take a step back and stop being naive especially when we talk about sports.

In contrast to many other media reports, I liked The New York Times’ take on Brady’s football controversy: he will continue to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, but his reputation will be tainted by this little incident. It may be a little disappointment, but overturning a person’s life-long achievements based on “taints” like this is unfair and even retarded. Taints are called taints for a reason. They make you uncomfortable, but a reasonable person should be able to live with it. Being perfect is a lie, and it can’t get more true than that.

I know most of the profanities against Tom Brady we are seeing right now won’t stop at least until he issues some kind of apology, and I’d like to say something about that. I don’t believe in apologies because too much more often than not they are for the wrong purpose. People usually apologize not because they sincerely feel what they did was wrong, but because they are made to do so. It’s even more often the case for public figures. I don’t see anything wrong with this: people did what they did because of their own justifications. Be there bad judgements or dumb moves, a justified action is justified for reasons, and “right” or “wrong” is simply too weak a metric to measure what a person really feels about what he did. In my own experience I never regret what I did (well, after I can make my good judgements of course… let childhood mess alone…), because it is useless and I truly believe that I made the best decision based on the knowledge I had back then. For a professional athlete like Tom, I believe he has his own justifications for his actions, and because it’s a game, bending the rules should not be ruled out as part of a strategy (like it’s almost standard to violate the rules to get the basketballs move faster towards the end of the 4th quarter). Tom stayed firm on principles like drugs and sportsmanship on field, and I think playing little tricks with the balls (which is implicitly permitted within a certain extent by the league and the rules, in my understanding) is far from committing a crime. Yes, this strategy puts a risk on his perfect public image, but really, I like this celebrity more when he is closer to a real human being instead of a made-up perfect role model. What is to be said is, my opinion won’t change whether Tom ends up apologizing or not — if he does then “it is more probable than not” that he is doing it out of pressure; if he doesn’t then I will still fully respect his choice to defend himself. In this country that touts “universal values” like human rights and “innocent until proven guilty”, everybody should default to respecting one’s self-defence especially when there is no incriminating evidence at all yet.

Let the public frenzy instigated by this fake crisis die down and let Tom play more real football. The lessons to be learned are that footballs may get deflated a little more in cold weather, and we should probably focus more on how people were doing in that cold weather, instead of why Tom Brady lied about deflating footballs.