John McGrath

John McGrath: Sportsmanship dead? Look no further than the New England Patriots

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, smiles as team owner Robert Kraft holds up the Vince Lombardi trophy during a Super Bowl victory parade in Boston on Feb. 8, 2005. The Patriots multiple season championships are in danger of being tainted over various cheating accusations.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, smiles as team owner Robert Kraft holds up the Vince Lombardi trophy during a Super Bowl victory parade in Boston on Feb. 8, 2005. The Patriots multiple season championships are in danger of being tainted over various cheating accusations. AP File 2005

Two creeps last Friday mugged a man in San Antonio, just to see him writhe.

This wouldn’t be a national news story, except the creeps were representing John Jay High School in a football game, and the man they mugged was an official.

If you’ve seen the video, you know that describing the incident as a mugging is not an exaggeration. A defensive back takes the official down with a premeditated hit to the blind side, and then the partner in the crime pounces on him.

It’s as if the scene was inspired by “A Clockwork Orange,” Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 movie about sociopathic juvenile delinquents in a dystopian future. While police were investigating, Pascual Gonzalez, the chief spokesman for the San Antonio area school district that includes John Jay, offered what might be the understatement of all time.

Said Gonzalez of the tag-team throwdown: “It is not the good sportsmanlike behavior that we teach students.”

Sportsmanlike behavior? What’s that?

The mugging of the high-school official in San Antonio preceded the bombshell accusations, revealed Tuesday, that the New England Patriots’ 21st century dynasty has been fraught with widespread cheating more nefarious than coach Bill Belichick’s critics ever imagined.

According to ESPN the Magazine senior writers Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, Belichick assembled an “innovative system of cheating” between 2000 and 2007.

“An entire system of covert videotaping was developed and a secret library created,” ESPN learned, identifying Belichick’s longtime friend, Ernie Adams, as point man of the scheme.

Relying on videotape and inside information obtained by Pats operatives typically posing as cameramen, Adams’ job during game week was to break down opponents plays on a spreadsheet passed along to Belichick.

Ever wonder why the Patriots often used a no-huddle offense while the play clock ticked away? They weren’t trying to speed the game up but, rather, slow it down so that the defense’s intentions could be conveyed to the quarterback.

The Patriots’ cheating was common knowledge around the league, the ESPN writers learned, and commissioner Roger Goodell tolerated it because of his close friendship with New England owner Robert Kraft, who played an influential role in the commissioner’s hiring.

When Goodell suspended Tom Brady four games for participating in a ruse to deflate footballs, the punishment struck most observers as curiously severe. Turns out it might not have been so curious: According to ESPN, Goodell wanted to mollify Kraft’s fellow owners with what amounted to a “make-up call.”

Assuming the story is accurate — it was based on more than 90 interviews, in addition to documents — Goodell’s already tenuous reign is on life support, and the Patriots’ championship seasons of 2001, 2003 and 2004 are irrevocably tainted.

Think about this: There’s tangible evidence the commissioner of the most successful sports league in the world ignored how the coach of the league’s most successful team cheated.

Think about this, too: Belichick didn’t need to cheat. His teams were talented enough, and prepared enough, and motivated enough to beat every opponent. And yet he cheated anyway.

I am reminded of the mastermind criminal — an art thief, say, or a safecracker — who has the beautiful mind to pursue a legitimate career, but is unable to resist the temptation of corrupting society instead of engaging in it.

As for the two creeps who conspired to mug a high school official in San Antonio, they didn’t take any cues from Belichick. There is no correlation between teenagers without a clue and an NFL coach without an apparent conscience.

Well, maybe one, and it poses some questions.

When did sportsmanship turn obsolete? At what point in the evolution of our games did winning with dignity, and losing with grace, become fundamentals that no longer apply?

Was it before, during or after those years Bill Belichick put together the sophisticated intel-gathering machine his championship team didn’t need?

An English proverb holds that “cheaters never prosper.”

Yeah, right.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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