Why Goodell Must Suspend Brady & Belichick For A Season
In 1962, Paul Hornung, the Green Bay Packers halfback and the league’s most valuable player (the MVP), and Alex Karras, a star defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, were accused of betting small sums of money on the games, including games in which they played.
The league commissioner, Pete Rozelle, responded swiftly. Hornung and Karras, despite their immense popularity, were suspended for a season. As a result, the “real game” of football in the NFL has remained largely separate from the game of gambling.
For many decades, coaches and players have spent their time trying to win games, not gaming or fixing the games. Strong, swift punishment solved the systemic problem.
This contrasts with governmental action in response to wrongdoing in the financial sector. Most of the big banks have been frequently involved in repeated illegality, including price fixing of LIBOR, abuses in foreclosure, money laundering of drug dealers and terrorists, assisting tax evasion and misleading clients with worthless securities. If any individual had been involved in even one such offense, they would be in prison for a substantial term. After the global financial meltdown of 2008, that was precipitated by the actions of bankers and that brought the world economy to the brink of financial catastrophe, not a single single senior financial manager went to prison.
Governmental action in the financial sector has consisted of the equivalent of slaps on the wrist, with financial penalties that for big institutions are simply “the cost of doing business,” with no admission of liability. Even where in recent cases the SEC has managed to extract an admission of liability, the outcome is the same. The bank goes on doing “business as usual,” as if to demonstrate that not only does wrongdoing have no significant consequences. Even admission of wrongdoing has no significant consequences. Wrongdoing is discouraged, but ultimately tolerated. The government seems content to extract billions of dollars in fines and impose ever more burdensome regulations on the financial sector.
But for society, the result of lax enforcement is continued wrongdoing, with no real end in sight. It is even hard to remember that there was a time, not too long ago, when banks were pillars of the community and exemplars of moral rectitude. Those virtues evaporate when wrongdoing is tolerated.
Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick during Super Bowl XLIX (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The NFL And “Deflate-Gate”
Back to the NFL and today’s scandal: “deflate-gate.” The New York Daily News reports that “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faces another complicated disciplinary decision.”
He has received the Wells Report which concludes that it was “more probable than not” that star quarterback, Tom Brady, was “generally aware” of the deflation of footballs and that he did not cooperate with the investigation when he refused to turn over his cell phone to Wells’ investigators.
The Daily News says that “evidence supplied by Ted Wells leads to one conclusion: Brady cheated.” What punishment will Brady receive? “My feeling is he will wind up with two games, whether that is the initial discipline handed out or whether he is hit with four and ends up with two after an appeal.”
“The Patriots could be fined,” says the Daily News, “just as they were for SpyGate in 2007, when Goodell fined them $250,000 and took away a first-round draft pick. Bill Belichick, who was hit with a $500,000 fine for running his spying operation, is not likely to face sanctions because the Wells Report did not link him to the deflating of the footballs.”
In other words, we are asked to believe that coach Belichick, who is famous for his meticulous attention to the tiniest and seemingly irrelevant details of preparation for each game, was disinterested in, and unfamiliar with, what was being done to ensure footballs had the appropriate pressure.
A Very Simple Decision
The Daily News is wrong. Goodell’s decision is not complicated at all.
If Goodell wants to emulate the example of the financial sector, he should do what the Daily News says and give Brady a slap on the wrist with a two-game suspension, along with a financial fine for the Patriots that will sound significant in absolute terms, but will be but a drop in the ocean of the Patriots’ financial returns. In this way, the popular Tom Brady, coach Belichick and the Patriots can continue on their current track. A two-game suspension at the start of the season will be doing Brady a favor and saving his talents for the playoffs, rather than a punishment. As in the financial sector, senior officials such as coaches will be seen as having no accountability for wrongdoing that occurs on their watch.
However, if Goodell follows this course of action, he should be aware that he will be giving a clear signal to NFL coaches, players and fans that cheating in the NFL is discouraged but in the end tolerated. The NFL will be heading down the path of professional wrestling.
If on the other hand Goodell wants to solve the problem of cheating in the NFL for good, he must emulate the excellent example of Pete Rozelle in 1962 where stiff penalties were exacted on popular payers for much less serious offenses than Brady’s or the Patriots’: Goodell must suspend Brady and Belichick for at least a season.
This is the way to send a clear signal that cheating in the NFL will not be tolerated. If this is done, fans will be able forget about the risk of cheating in the NFL for years to come. They can be confident that players and coaches will be playing the game of football, not fixing it.