Friday, January 30, 2015

Michael Josephson: Cheating in the NFL – to care or not to care, that is the question

  So, are you worked up about the boiling controversy over under-inflated footballs? Do you care that there seems to be cheating in the NFL. Big deal or trivial? It’s all is a matter of perspective.

  For example, several months ago ago, it was confirmed that the U.S., in the pursuit of terrorist information, has and probably still does engage in what most people regard as torture (though its disguised by the euphemism “enhanced interrogation.”). What’s more, the majority of Americans support this. This, it would seem is a momentous moral issue yet almost all the discussion focused not on whether this sort of behavior is right and whether it is consistent with our national self-image as the good guys, but the pragmatic question: did it work?

  When compared to the moral significance of the torture to the individuals affected and its impact on our national character and credibility, the fact that athletes and coaches are willing to break the rules to win seems trivial.

  On the other hand, it’s likely that more people know and care about what the NFL does than what the CIA does. Thus, the enormous role sports plays in the shaping of our culture and values could make cheating at this high level a pretty big deal.

  Still, it’s hard to take seriously the self-righteous huffing and puffing of critics who seem to have just discovered that NFL culture embraces the “whatever you can get away with” standard of morality. There are many who think “cheating is part of the game” and others who think, “if you are not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” All the righteous indignation to the possibility that Tom Brady, and/or his coach were willing to break rules to get a competitive edge looks like the inspector in the movie Casablanca who claimed to be shocked that gambling was going on at Ricks.

  I think most of the sports journalists who are treating the story like Watergate are just pretending to care because it's a great story to beat to death.

  You may have noted that the outrage about cheating in football intensifies when cheaters lie. One can possess the delusion that effective cheating and getting away with it is almost admirable but lying about it always seems so undignified. Yet, do we really expect a cheater to admit it?

  Bill Clinton swore he did not have sex with that woman Miss Lewinsky; Lance Armstrong denied blood doping as long as he could; and Barry Bonds, one of our most prominent un-convicted cheaters, still claims he never took performance enhancing drugs.

  Although many forms of cheating are hard to prove, Inflategate should be a piece of cake. With moderate resources but persistent professional investigation techniques, the NFL could discover with a high degree of certainty who did what and who knew (or probably knew) what. Do you think the NFL cares enough to do that? Do you think the fans care enough?

  I’m a bit of a purist and I still think cheating is wrong, whether it works or not. I am offended when it happens and I think we ought to be more vigilant to catch cheats and very firm when we catch them. I wish we really did care more about cheating, but the trend is definitely going the other way. What do you think?

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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