Thursday, February 9, 2017

Today's philosophical question

No, not what would happen if Superman fought Batman. As the Blob has noted before, that's already been done. Badly.

The question for today, rather, is this: What constitutes cheating?

"What the Patriots did, like, three times at least," is one acceptable answer.

"What the Indianapolis Colts did, during roughly the same period," is another, at least according to Deion Sanders.

The Hall of Fame defensive back turned NFL Network analyst said that the other day, when one of his colleagues, LaDainian Tomlinson, pointed out on the NFL Network that the Patriots' dynasty might have been besmirched by Spygate and Deflategate. Sanders begged to differ.

"Those same critics, did they say anything about the wins that the Indianapolis Colts had? You want to talk about that, too? Because they were getting everybody's signals," Sanders said. "Come on, you don't walk up to the line and look over here and the man on the sideline giving you the defense that they've stolen the plays of. We all knew. LT knew. Everybody in the NFL knew. We just didn't let the fans know. That was real and that was happening in Indy."

Tony Dungy, of course, begs to differ, pointing out that stealing signals goes back to the 1800s in baseball. Which is true.

So does that make it cheating, or just time-honored tradition?

It is, admittedly, a fine line, and only a blue-face-painted Colts fan would claim otherwise. The foundational definition of cheating, after all, is trying to gain the upper hand by surreptitious means. By that standard, stealing a team's signals is different only in degree from what the Patriots did in Sypgate.

Here's the thing though: Degrees matter here.

That's why Spygate was cheating, and stealing signals is not. Contradiction in terms it may be, but  there is an acceptable norm to these things, as Dungy suggested.  Stealing signals lies within that norm, because, yes, baseball teams have been stealing signals since the 1800s, and professional football teams (not to say college teams) have likely been doing it for almost as long.

If you think the Colts were the only NFL team trying to steal signals during the Dungy era , there is some lovely oceanfront property in Nebraska you might want to check out. Ditto if you think stealing signals never happened in, say, the Shula or McCaffrey or Marchibroda  eras.

So why is Spygate different?

Because it did go outside the norm. The Patriots' skullduggery took skullduggery beyond the unspoken parameters for these things. It took it to a place everyone agrees, without saying so, is unacceptable. That's why no one does it -- or if they do, they are properly punished for it, as the Patriots were.

So is stealing signals cheating?

Well ... yes. But in the gray-shaded world of professional sports, there is cheating -- and there is, well, cheating.

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