American Football is shaken to the core by the discovery that match balls during a National Football League Game appeared to have been tampered with.
Shock horror. Accusations are made that The New England Patriots had deliberate deflated the balls. This gives more grip for a star quarterback like Tom Brady to make a winning throw. Cries of Deflate Gate are heard, followed by denials of wrong-doing from Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriot, Coach Belickick and players.
“It’s not Cricket”
On hearing the news, my first thought was the parallel with that most traditional sport of Cricket. Tales of ball-tampering to gain an advantage have periodically outraged the authorities, as bowlers are caught out doctoring the ball. “It’s not Cricket” is a cry which is used in England as a cultural short-hand for cheating in any walk of life. Playing cricket embodies a set of ancient and noble amateur values that are even more fiercely guarded as professionalism invades the sport.
The dilemma might be expressed as this: cheating in professional sport is unacceptable but necessary.
Staying with cricket, I can remember the various ways, some creative some crude, in which the bowler helps the cricket ball to spin, swerve, bounce so as to deceive the batsman. The captain of the England cricket team is regarded as the epitome of fair play, but one struggled once in recent times with accusations that he had led his team into play with a pocketful of dirt to scuff up the ball.
Dishing the dirt
A brilliant report for Hutchinson News [URL not available] starting with the NFL, goes on to dish more dirt on foul play in cricket (‘zipper gate’) rugby union, (‘Wilkigate’), Tennis (‘fluffigate’), and Baseball (‘spittigate’).
Does it matter?
Obviously it matters to those outraged or ostracized by a cheating scandal. And beyond the often pompous and self-righteous outbursts lurkc a cultural truth. Sport embodies ancient values of honestly and fairness that are tested by equally ancient human needs to win at all costs.
In my research, I found the splendid image of W G Grace, an early heroic figure and superstar shown above. Gloucestershire archives tell of his blatant bad sportsmanship which seems to have been condoned.
See also the continued story of the NFL deflategate as Sunday’s Superbowl approaches.