Integrity Matters
September 19, 2007

Apply the rules to spying coach

Question: (E-311)
On Sunday, September 9, 2007, a member of the professional football world, National Football League (NFL), the New England Patriots organization, was caught shooting video of the New York Jets' bench as the team sent in defensive signals. NFL security confiscated the video camera and videotape, and shipped it to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who, in turn, invited Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to New York to discuss the situation. Goodell concluded the Patriots violated rules about which all teams had specifically been warned.
This leaves a cloud hanging over what the New England Patriots franchise has accomplished in recent years, including a nasty stain on this century's first professional football dynasty. Was Coach Belichick a genius or was he operating on an unfair playing field?  What is your response to the costly cheating penalties handed out by the NFL Commissioner?  New England Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick was required to pay $500,000 for his violations and the team even more money.

If I were NFL Commissioner, my actions would be shaped by my knowledge of golf – where - if you engage in cheating, even when you “blow-the-whistle” on yourself, you are disqualified, immediately.  In the case of the New England Patriots’ clear violation of league rules – the consequences must be clear:  loss of game.  End of discussion.

Instead, the Commissioner’s response was to assess a seemingly expensive fine – that turns out to be little more than a financial speed-bump in the multi-billion dollar professional sports world.  This slap on the wrists is unlikely to discourage dishonesty.  In the modified words of former United States Senator from Illinois, Everett Dirksen “. . . a million here and million there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.”  However, an inconsequential fine – at least for very rich sports franchises - sends a negative, integrity-eroding message to fans, including impressionable children:  “If you can do the time, then feel free to commit the crime.”

Translation: if you can afford the fine, then “go-ahead” and cross the line!  Consequences are secondary, in greed-driven societies, where winner takes all, re-confirming that “the end justifies the means” – and that integrity becomes little more than a catch-phrase for suckers.

Unfortunately, both the actions of the Patriots and the response of the Commissioner confirm what too many cynics have already concluded:  “It is not how you play the game, but only that you win.” 

Please, Commissioner Goodell, re-think your position and implement behavior-changing consequences for rules violations.  Convicted cheaters cannot be allowed to simply look the other way; “winking” at rules of fair play. Society desperately needs positive role models and adults are responsible for setting and enforcing positive standards – with integrity.

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