Is Tom Brady a cheater?
It’s a simple question.
It’s also one that the NFL’s report can’t properly answer. Nor can the New York Daily News, despite its screaming front pages.
So we turned to someone who might be able to: Chuck Klosterman. As the sole writer of the New York Times Magazine’s column “The Ethicist” for almost three years, he’s well-versed in providing thoughtful answers to questions of ethical ambiguity. As a contributing editor to Bill Simmons’s sports and culture site Grantland, he’s proven his sportswriting chops.
We emailed him, and asked a very plain question: is #12 a cheater?
Here is Chuck Klosterman’s response.
“Classifying him as a ‘cheater’ is not the same as agreeing that he cheated. If a cornerback consciously keeps his hands on a wide receiver six yards upfield, fully aware that the officials are not going to enforce such a minor transgression, the cornerback is cheating. But that act doesn’t define the cornerback’s entire character. We would simply view this player as trying to locate the boundary between what is technically illegal and what is actually enforced as an unfair advantage.”
“As an organization, the Patriots seem to do this more than every other franchise combined, in every possible context (SpyGate, placing six eligible receivers on the field vs. the Ravens, etc.). It is, I think, the central reason for why they are so successful: They push all the parameters.”
“What makes this specific scandal problematic is the way it translates to people who barely follow the game at all. Unlike something like SpyGate, every person alive understands why this is cheating: The ball is the ball, and you can’t tamper with the ball. And I assume Brady knew this tampering was happening, and I assume he was psychologically complicit in the act.”
“But this reflects more on the institution than on Brady, and it’s crazy to claim that someone should be defined as a ‘cheater’ just because we can prove he cheated once (particularly in a world where having an insane competitive desire is viewed as the best quality any employee can possess).”
So there you have it: even if Tom Brady cheated once, he isn’t necessarily a cheater.