The news broke four weeks ago that Tom Brady’s four-game suspension from the NFL had been lifted by federal courts. Upon the release of the news, the online world exploded with opinions, ranging from outright joy to deep contempt for the Patriots, the NFL and the justice system altogether.
The court’s decision to release Brady from any punishment lives as evidence for the NFL’s poor history of dealing with scandals and the presence of cheating in professional sports. Even more significant, however, is the obvious influence that professional sports have on our society, and the need for discretion in how we view these athletes.
It is my personal opinion that Tom Brady did have knowledge of the deflated footballs being used in playoff games. Given the history of scandals in the Patriots’ organization (their Spygate scandal lasted from 2000 to 2007), there seems to be little regard for sportsmanship and integrity in the organization.
This lack of respect spreads to all sports, and unethical practices include the use of human growth hormones and performance-enhancing drugs, the occurrence of fights and brawls and the frequent exemption from law that professional athletes seem entitled to. These are issues that regularly come up– from athletes being caught possessing marijuana to facing charges for domestic abuse.
The athletes caught are clearly causing harm to themselves and maybe a few close others, but they do not realize the harm they are causing to society. Children grow up idolizing their favorite basketball or baseball players, longing to be just like them, to have an identical swing and to replicate their touchdown dance. When these athletes handle their influence so carelessly, they are teaching their young admirers to do the same.
I have a clear problem with cheating. Rules exist to be followed, and punishment exists for when rules are broken. When professional athletes with millions of admirers repeatedly attempt to appeal their punishments, they are teaching children everywhere that rules do not matter and that it is okay to break them as long as you apologize. Ultimately, they are perpetuating the idea that success and achievement are more important than respecting the boundaries set to make achievement fair.
Sometimes it seems that there is no role of religion or God in sports. However, sports are part of God’s great creation, and we need to handle them with care as we attempt to honor God in all we do. We must not hold athletes as our main influences, and we should not support appeals of punishments that are deserved.
Whether or not Tom Brady was truly guilty of cheating, we must hold him and all others to standards of virtue. Christians must seek the highest degrees of integrity and respect in sports, seeking to glorify God before anything else. That will offer more satisfaction than any championship can.