Should the Patriots's coronation come with an asterisk for having cheated? Print
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Wednesday, 30 January 2008 14:33
NFL Headline News

 PHOENIX (AP) -Before we go any further, let's get this out of the way: Bruce Svare not only owns season tickets for the New York Giants but has a cousin who played for the team during its glory days. The most treasured item in his office is a football signed by the 1958 team, and he would gladly be at the Super Bowl if he were lucky enough to get tickets.
I bring that up before anybody accuses Svare of letting his rooting interest get in the way of one of his other jobs. As head of the National Institute of Sports Reform, he tries to make sense of the problems in sports for kids playing them and their parents,
When he puts on that hat, he looks at sports differently. So give him the benefit of the doubt when he considers the New England Patriots' place in history should they beat his Giants and become the first NFL team in 35 years to finish a season undefeated.
``In my view they should go down with an asterisk the same way Barry Bonds should go down,'' Svare said. ``They cheated the game, cheated the integrity of the game.''
Before you write off Svare as nothing more than a diehard Giants fan, understand this: He's not alone in being more than a bit disturbed that the best team in football isn't far removed from a cheating scandal that for a short time shook the very foundations of the NFL.
It's a subject sports ethicists will debate, even if customers downing pints of Samuel Adams in New England bars won't. And it's fair game for the big game, even though you're unlikely to hear anything about Spygate unless you tune in for the earliest hours of Sunday's pregame show.
That's too bad because as good as the Patriots are - and they are undeniably one of the greatest if not the greatest NFL team ever - they have yet to take real responsibility for one of the most brazen cheating operations in the history of bigtime sports.
They didn't when it happened. They didn't when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined coach Bill Belichick a record $500,000, the team another $250,000, and took away a first-round draft pick in the stiffest punishment ever handed down in the league.
And they're certainly not issuing apologies at the Super Bowl, though they haven't had to because Tom Brady's bum ankle and even his girlfriend are far more interesting to the media than accountability for the biggest cheating scandal in the league.
Ask Belichick about it, and you'll either get a nasty sneer or the stock comment that he is concentrating totally on his team's opponent this week and has no time to talk about such nonsense. Ask the players about it and they'll look at you blankly and say they don't know anything about it and that they are focused only on Eli Manning and Michael Strahan.
The party line extends all the way to the top, as I found out the other day when I went into the stands to talk to Patriots owner Robert Kraft about why the team felt it had to cheat to win.
``We all know it had no impact on any game this season,'' Kraft said. ``In a way, it helped solidify the relationship Bill and I have. We did stand together and he had my full support.''
Kraft apparently isn't accustomed to having people debate issues with him. When I asked him if it bothered him that a good segment of the population thought his team cheated, the interview was just about over.
``It's to rest as far as I'm concerned. It's to rest,'' Kraft said. ``I'm done talking about that. We're here to celebrate something special.''
The Patriots certainly have the right to celebrate something special if they do what no team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins has done. But don't forget what Goodell said earlier this season when the team was caught videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets:
``This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.''
That kind of conduct upsets more people than you might think. People who believe cheating sends a bad message to kids that they should do whatever it takes to win, no matter what the consequences. The message that accompanies it in this case is that because the money is so big and the stakes so high, no one should worry about what happened at the beginning of the season anymore.
The interesting thing is that there has been no great outcry from fellow coaches and teams, suggesting either they are afraid of alienating Belichick and the Patriots or that they cheat themselves but have yet to be caught.
``Maybe it's just because they value winning more than anything else. We're willing to do everything that it takes to win,'' said Greg Dale, a professor of sport psychology and ethics at Duke. ``Is that right? Absolutely not.''
Dale polled his sport ethics class this week to see what they thought, and was somewhat surprised to find out that, while half the class thought the Patriots were cheaters, the other half thought that what they've done since the first week of the season showed they didn't need to cheat to win.
Indeed, this week seems to be shaping up for a coronation more than a controversy. And the Super Bowl has always been more about celebrating the power of money and advertising than it has been a forum for current issues, as the broken-down retirees of the NFL have learned.
Sure, the Patriots are cheaters. More importantly, they are also winners.
And in the biggest of the big games, that's all that really seems to matter.
----
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org
 

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