Why You Shouldn’t Have to Care About DeflateGate

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To be a sports fan is to acknowledge that you will spend a majority of your free time in aggravation. This is the nature of anything rooted in a basic contest or other situation where there are winners and losers. Like Ricky Bobby said, “if you ain’t not first, you’re last,” and this emotional teeter-totter  is what makes the victories so sweet, the losses so harsh, and the hundreds of dollars in officially licensed merchandise easier to swallow. That’s not the problem — that’s the system working as intended.

The problems arise when the victories are made to ring hollow, or the losses undercut with asterisks. When the rules are flouted and the emotional effort (not to mention the actual time) is cheapened by either party involved in the game, regardless of the winning or the losing. And, so, DeflateGate, something that started as a Twitter aside and turned into a pair of shouting points: Either it was an example of the New England Patriots dodging the rules again or it was an example of the NFL making something out of nothing because it was the Patriots that did it. Both sides are correct, and both sides miss the point entirely, which is why the dead air between now and the Super Bowl is being filled with the bulging neck veins and spittle drenched keyboards and desks of sportswriters and fans everywhere who have very hot takes on a very inconsequential thing.

Would properly inflated balls have stopped the Colts being stomped into the ground? Probably not. Do the Patriots have a reputation for taking the rules of the NFL too far? Certainly. Does the notion of looking to the league office for some kind of moral guidance seem particularly absurd, given the negative attention they have received throughout the entirety of the 2014 season? Absolutely.

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The entire outcry, in fact, seems to be the result of the fact that it’s fun to pick on Patriots fans when their team is caught doing something that, if nothing else, lies in the grey area between what a team ought to do and what a team does that so defines the push and pull between football’s rules and football’s reality. The same way jokes are tossed about Adderall not really being Adderall whenever a player is suspended for a banned substance, the deflated footballs (and they were, by all accounts, below regulation) were a wrong doing that certainly merits mention. You can point to a litany of other situations where there was little ado about the same scenario — and many have, to be sure — but this defense is little more than the time-honored tradition known to small children worldwide as something like “but they did it and they didn’t get punished, why is this any different?”

You’ll note there, that this is not a defense of the action itself, which everyone knows is cheating (or at least, bending the rules), but simply a diffusal of blame based on prior impropriety. It becomes more fun to make fun of the Patriots and their fans when they can’t defend the action itself, which is what’s happening here, in echoes of Spygate.

On the other hand, the Patriots fans are right: Everyone does this. It’s a common practice. It is, almost certainly, cheating, but it is not a big deal — the equivalent of an NBA player taking three steps on the way to an open dunk. DeflateGate is a nonevent that isn’t worth your time in the slightest, no matter if you root for the Patriots or think they’re the worst thing about the NFL. The only reason it’s being talked about is because folks on both sides of the aisle are in hysterics about something that doesn’t actually move the needle to the sport itself. As such, the best course is to ignore it, and go on to Seattle.