20
May
08

Belicheater?

I doubt many people today recognize the name Charles Van Doren. Charles Van Doren started out like anyone else, just a regular guy. Eventually though, he would grow to be seen as a genius, a man whose knowledge of seemingly any subject far surpassed all of his peers. Van Doren would find a way to utilize that knowledge to come into great wealth and popularity during the 1950s, only to be exposed as one of the biggest examples of fraud ever.

Van Doren was a game show contestant, and a very successful one, a regular Ken Jennings of his day. He stayed on the NBC game show ‘Twenty-One’ for a solid three months, accumulating $129,000 and annihilating every challenger that faced him along the way. And as he became a regular staple in the homes of Americans, he earned their admiration, their respect and their trust as a television personality. So much so, in fact, that immediately after he was defeated, he was offered a position as a correspondent for the Today Show, a move which seemed to imply that Americans loved Charles Van Doren so much that they simply didn’t want to lose the chance to watch him on TV.

The problem was, Charles Van Doren was a phony. Turns out the producers of ‘Twenty-One’ liked him on TV just as much as the American people did, and they had been feeding Van Doren answers to the questions he would be asked beforehand (which he eagerly accepted) so all he had to do was pause, look slightly puzzled, answer the question, and occasionally pat his brow with a handkerchief.

The funny thing was, Charles Van Doren certainly could have done very well without any help at all. He had a B.A. in Liberal Arts, a Masters in Astrophysics, and a Doctorate in English, and he was a member of a notoriously scholarly Ivy League family. In simpler terms, he was just plain smart. And Van Doren tried out on his own, which would imply that he thought he could hold his own on the show to begin with. So once the facts came out that proved he had been fed the answers the whole time, the question became: can a man still be considered a cheater if he doesn’t necessarily need the edge he gains from cheating, and should that act of cheating be held against him?

The National Football League now has a Charles Van Doren of its own, and they’re trying to figure out just what to do about it. Bill Belichick, as we all have known for quite some time, was heavily involved in the Spygate scandal, and now, with the testimony of Matt Walsh, the league is discovering that Spygate just may be a bigger deal than they once considered. True, no completely new information was uncovered by Walsh’s testimony, but it served to solidify what we had already assumed: that Bill Belichick knew he was cheating, he knew he was doing something other teams weren’t, and he did it anyway, all the time wanting no one to know about it. And this went on for at least eight years.

But Belichick, like Van Doren, is respected as the best at what he does. Winner of three Super Bowls in four appearances, two time coach of the year, and one of two head coaches in history to coach their team to a perfect regular season record. It’s an impressive resume, to be sure. But this one black mark, in my opinion, is enough to wipe it all off the board.

Gregg Easterbrook, author of the column Tuesday Morning Quarterback, thinks the best solution is a year suspension for Belichick, and I tend to agree with him (his article is found here, and it’s worth a read). Yes, Belichick was fined a significant amount of money (that really may not have been that significant considering his multi-million dollar salary) and the team had to forfeit a draft choice (which Easterbrook accurately points out punishes the fans more than it punishes Belichick) but that simply isn’t enough. If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to keep the NFL clean, he’s got to set boundaries that are clear, or else those boundaries will continue to be pushed. If consequences are strict and enforced from the beginning, then coaches and players will certainly think twice before they consider pushing those boundaries. Essentially, to save the league’s reputation, Roger Goodell needs to make Belichick his scapegoat.

My assumption, though, is that Goodell doesn’t want to punish someone who is such an important figure in the eyes of the league and the fans. The words ‘Belichick’ and ‘genius’ have been tossed around together so frequently since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl that people are really beginning to accept the designation. Meanwhile, Belichick has achieved godlike status among fans, players, and his fellow coaches. I think Goodell believes it would be too detrimental to the league to take a character of Belichick’s status out for a year, and that’s why he chooses not to.

In all honesty, I think it’d be better in the long term for the league if he did suspend Belichick, and maybe even take it one step further. Think coaches would think twice about anything close to cheating if Belichick, a surefire first-balloter, was banned from the Hall of Fame? You bet they would. In my opinion, leaders need to be held to a higher standard, that’s why being a leader is such a tough job. Right now, the NFL is the most popular and profitable sports league in the nation, and that could easily change if it gets bogged down with too many preventable scandals. The problem remains, though, that Belichick is just too big of a personality, too well respected and too beloved, and perhaps that allows him to exist above the law.

That’s why we make excuses for him. That’s why we will come to the conclusion that the tapes didn’t really help all that much, that they didn’t need the tapes to win, and that it’s really not a big deal. But an ace up your sleeve is still cheating even if you win with a king-high flush. That ace up your sleeve still means that particular ace is now out of play for the other 31 people playing the game, which gives you an unfair advantage, which is cheating, no matter which way you slice it, and that must be addressed.

*****

After being uncovered as a cheater, Charles Van Doren was promptly removed from his correspondent job at ‘The Today Show’, a move the network made to save their own face and disassociate themselves with the monster they essentially created themselves. Then, just as quickly as he was removed from that job, he got a new one: chief editor for the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Today, he’s a well-respected author and college professor, and is not questioned regarding his time on ‘Twenty-One.’

Time will only tell if the world is as forgiving to Belichick as they were to Van Doren, but my guess is that it will be, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Sure, there will be chanting fans and mocking signs held up at a handful of games next year, but the truth of the matter is, the Patriots are good, and they most likely will continue to be a winning franchise in the next few years, and that glory will likely land upon to two men: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But the question of the Patriots’ talent is not the most important one. The real question that only time can answer is whether or not Belichick’s actions will give way to more questionable behavior that is let slide by a far too tolerant league, and a new generation of Americans are given the message that a good reputation can substitute for integrity, and that succeeding by any means– cheating included– is, to put it plainly, acceptable.

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20 Responses to “Belicheater?”


  1. May 20, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Taping the Rams pre-Super Bowl walk-through practice was wrong.

    Should Belicheck have been suspended and fined for committing that offence?

    Yes he should.

    However, taping the opponent’s in-game signals SHOULD not be a suspendable offense or carry an automatic fine.

    It does not carry these types of penalties in the NBA, the NHL or MLB.

    If a team cannot disguise its own signals to players then it deserves to that specific match-up.

    Suspending Belicheck at this point … is an act of vendictive cowardice; nothing more or less than that.

  2. 2 andygraham
    May 20, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    “Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.”

    That’s straight from the NFL bylaws. Belichick knew it was wrong, and he did it. Blatant disobedience of rules requires strict and swift punishment so as to prevent such behavior in the future.

    Also, your statement that taping the Super Bowl practice taping is more severe than regular in-game taping is a bit flawed, because who is to say the outcome of a regular season game in which signals have been previously taped and analyzed isn’t going to have an effect on whether or not that team actually reaches the Super Bowl in the first place? Cheating is cheating, no matter how big (or small) the advantage gained. Should Roger Clemens be punished any less if it’s found that he’s using steroids, but just not the best possible steroids on the market?

  3. May 20, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    If you read carefully what I wrote you will see for yourself the words …

    “SHOULD not be a suspendable or carry an automatic fine.”

    What I’m suggesting here is that the NFL needs to change its antiquated rules that pertain specifically to this type of situation, in the first place.

    And you know what …

    “cheating is not cheating, no matter how big (or small) the advantage gained.”

    Small offences like this one SHOULD not be punished in the same way as major offences SHOULD be dealt with; that’s a fundamental principle of justice.

    (for example, given your reference to Clemens … if he was found to have used an improper foreign substance on his finger-tips … ala Gaylord Perry … then, no, this SHOULD NOT carry the same penalty as what the consequences should be if he was found to have used “Performance Enhancing Drugs” to gain an advantage over the other players in the Major Leagues … since there’s a big difference, say, between using Vaseline underneath the bill of your cap, covertly, and injecting Stanozolol into your blood system with a syringe)

  4. 4 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 7:23 am

    Whether or not the rules should be changed is beside the point I’m making. The purpose of my original post was to say that while the current rules are in place, they need to be effectively enforced or they might as well not have the rules. It’s a simple principal of leadership, or even parenting. Say a parent tells their child, “Clean your room or else you can’t play video games for a month,” and the child doesn’t clean their room. If the parent doesn’t enforce the boundary they originally set (whether or not that boundary is appropriate for the ‘crime’ committed) then the child will know they can push the parent around essentially forever. So if Goodell doesn’t enforce the rules he’s already got now, he won’t be able to enforce them later, even if he changes them to better reflect the offense committed, as you suggest.

  5. May 21, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Except that …

    it is not good Leadership (nor good ‘Parenting’ for that matter) to …

    once you realize the Rule you had in place was inherently flawed …

    exact the Punishment for that Rule, for the sake of that Rule and nothing else …

    instead of acknowledging the Wrongness of the Rule, in the first place,

    AND implementing a ‘different penalty’ than is originally outlined in the egregious Rule, in the first place.

    That, my friend, is what effective Leadership/Parenting is all about … once you’ve determined that a Rule you once made and still have on the books is now antiquainted.

  6. 6 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Perhaps we’ll have to settle for agreeing to disagree. In my opinion, what Belichick did was worthy of a suspension from the league, and the only ‘wrongness of the rule’ is that it is not harsh enough. A culture which allows these sort of activities to skate by with minimal punishment is a culture that has forgotten what fairness is. And if preventing cheating is out of date, or antiquated, as you put it, then perhaps we need to seriously re-examine our morals as a society.

  7. May 21, 2008 at 11:19 am

    The cheating rule which exists in the NFL that pertains to this sort of “signal stealing” is antiquainted and WRONG in today’s society.

    The Rule needs to be changed NOT have its punishment meated out … by the book, because it’s still on the books (so-to-speak) … to extract its ‘Pound o’Flesh’ from Belicheck & the Patriots.

    “Stealing signals” from the OPPONENT (rather than a fellow-shareholder in the gigantic anti-trust exempt NFL conglomerate) … SHOULD be part of the ‘the Game’ just as it is in the other major team sports leagues (e.g. the NBA & MLB).

    Taping pre-game walk-throughs (of the Super Bowl or otherwise) is wrong … but “stealing the opponent’s in-game signals” SHOULD NOT be.

  8. 8 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 11:51 am

    We’re talking about two different things here, and as long as that’s the case, nothing is going to come of it. What I’m saying has nothing to do with football, nothing to do with Belichick, nothing to do with Spygate, and everything to do with the state of our society’s morals and the integrity of its individuals. Whether or not stealing in-game signals is okay, should be okay, or ever will be okay is of no concern to me. My beef is with people who lack the integrity to stick to their own established guidelines, no matter whether or not those guidelines are ludicrous in many people’s eyes, and no matter the circumstance. Belichick, in signing his contract to coach in the NFL, in effect agreed to follow all of the league’s rules, whether he agreed with them or not. That means that if the rules said he had to wear a big purple top hat on the sidelines, he’d have to do it, because it would be part of the deal, even though it’s a ridiculous premise. If he didn’t want to follow the established rules, he shouldn’t have become a coach.

  9. May 21, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    What about those people who are willing to break the rules they happen to believe are wrongly made in the first place?

    Is there room in your world for them?

  10. 10 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    In the world? Yes. In sports, a world created on the basis of healthy competition and good sportsmanship? No.

  11. May 21, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Are you telling me you believe it’s a world of healthy competition and good sportsmanship when the New York Yankees have a $150 Million payroll and the Florida Marlins are at $25 Million?

  12. 12 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Baseball doesn’t have a salary cap. If the Marlins wanted to spend $500 million on their payroll, they’d be welcome to do that, and it would fall within the rules of their league. And honestly, the Marlins likely don’t have a problem with the drastic difference in their payroll as they sit in first place in their division while the Yankees are in dead last.

  13. May 21, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    So, then what you’re saying is that without a salary cap it’s okay, good competition, good sportsmanship, and the like … if the Yankees spend $150 M and the Marlins spend $25 M … as long as Florida is in 1st place and New York isn’t.

    Hmmmm ….

    You really think that supports the framework for your viewpoint?

  14. 14 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    That is clearly not what I’m saying. What I’m saying, and have been saying all this time, is that you follow the rules of the league you’re in. If the Marlins were in last, and the Yankees in first (which has often been the case) the Marlins would have no place to moan about the salary cap, because it’s PART OF THE ESTABLISHED RULES. If they wanted a salary cap, they could play basketball, or hockey, or football. But because they want to play baseball, they have to accept the rules of the sport in which they participate.

  15. May 21, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    And you’re saying that the Rules of Major League Baseball which allow the Yankees to spend $150 M and the Marlins $25 M are good for competition and good sportsmanship?

  16. 16 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Yes, following rules is good sportsmanship.

  17. May 21, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Not when the gap between the Have’s and the Havenot’s is as wide as that.

    ==========================================================================

    Here’s a 2nd question for you.

    Were the punishments already set in stone for those who broke the Rules that Mr. Belichek is accused of breaking?

    (i.e. a Set Fine and a Specified Suspension)

  18. 18 andygraham
    May 21, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    There isn’t a gap between the haves and have nots. If the Marlins wanted to shell out the dough, they could spend $150 million as well, but they’ve found a way to be a successful franchise without doing so, so more power to them.

    As for your second question, as far as I know, no, there is no set consequence for breaking those rules (although there could be and I just don’t know about it). That’s why the punishment is open to interpretation by the commissioner, which he decided should be a $500,000 fine for Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the team, and the forfeiting of a first round draft pick.

  19. July 21, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive that this blog is syndicated through Google and is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

    The baseball greats you should write about next!

  20. 20 andygraham
    July 21, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Weapons,

    If you could explain more how you came across my blog, I’d appreciate it. If Google news has ‘picked up’ my blog, as you mention it, I was unaware of it. I know that there are certain phrases you can type into Google that will lead you to my blog, but if Google has posted anything on my site as a specific news story, I’d appreciate you telling me about it. Thanks so much for the note!


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