The wheels of justice turn exceedingly slowly and sometimes they roll off the road completely. Just ask Tom Brady. The NFL has presented no evidence showing that Tom Brady either deflated footballs or had knowledge that footballs were being deflated. The NFL has presented no evidence that any advantage can be gained by deflating footballs. The NFL has not even presented any evidence that footballs actually were deflated (the "science" in the Wells Report is not credible, to say the least).
Despite all of the evidence that the NFL has not presented, Brady's name has been dragged through the mud, his team has been penalized $1 million plus multiple draft picks and it is possible that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will ultimately reinstate Brady's four game suspension that was sensibly thrown out by a U.S. District Court. The U.S. Court of Appeals seems to be much more interested in Brady's destruction of an old cell phone--which is not the "crime" for which Brady was punished--than in whether or not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to discipline Brady in the manner and to the extent that he did.
Anyone who cheats in the NFL (or anywhere else) should be punished (see the final section of this article)--but the NFL cannot prove that Brady cheated and cannot demonstrate that he gained any advantage even if he did what he was alleged to have done. At most, the NFL should have resolved this matter by fining the Patriots a token amount and by tightening up the procedures governing how the footballs are maintained prior to and during the games, because that is the larger issue: if the officials had done their job properly, the alleged deflation could not have taken place.
The whole fake controversy takes attention away from the concussion issue, though. Do you think that is a coincidence? What would the NFL rather talk about, footballs being deflated or NFL players suffering brain damage from routine plays?
Depending on how you look at it, Peyton Manning either retired on a high note or he left town just before the posse arrived. Manning's body failed him during the final several games of his career and he captured his second Super Bowl title as a Trent Dilfer-like caretaker for a moribund offense that was carried to victory by one of the greatest defenses of all-time (no offense meant to Dilfer, who was a solid quarterback but will not be remembered in quite the same way as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Bradshaw, Montana and Brady). Leaving as a champion is obviously the best way to go and few great athletes have the opportunity to do so--and even fewer take advantage of that opportunity, for the lure of one more ring (or piles of more cash) can be hard to resist. Michael Jordan had the perfect ending, nailing the game/championship-clinching jumper versus Utah in 1998, but then he came back to limp around as a Washington Wizard and provide glimpses of what he used to be. Jordan's comeback was a testament to his mental and physical fortitude but it was hardly a storybook ending.
Manning leaves the NFL as a role player on a championship team but as memories fade beneath the magnitude of his career numbers the perception will be that he left on top, even if the reality is that if he stuck around for another season there is likely not one team that would employ his as a starting quarterback.
Manning retired before giving NFL teams a chance to say, "Thanks for the memories and don't let the door hit you on the way to the broadcast booth/front office."
There is also the matter of the dark clouds swirling around Manning, clouds that could have become more publicized if he kept playing but now will likely be ignored.
The first dark cloud is the accusation that Manning used the performance-enhancing drug (PED) human growth hormone (HGH), receiving the banned substance in his wife Ashley's name in an attempt to avoid detection. While the media provided wall to wall, 24-7 coverage of the alleged deflated football scandal as soon as word about it became public--and the media continues to breathlessly report about this story from every conceivable angle--Manning's friends in the media made sure that scarcely anything was mentioned about HGH during Denver's Super Bowl run. Did Manning use HGH? No one, least of all "protector of the NFL shield" Roger Goodell, seems particularly interested to find out. No one is paying Ted Wells millions of dollars to get to the bottom of this issue, that's for sure.
The second dark cloud dates back two decades to when he was a star quarterback for the University of Tennessee. At that time, Manning either (1) sexually harassed the female team trainer, (2) acted in a juvenile manner by mooning a teammate or (3) did something somewhere in between (1) and (2). We likely will never know what really happened, because while Manning's denials and snide verbal attacks against his accuser are not quite convincing his accuser comes across in some accounts as perhaps not the best person to be carrying the torch for Title IX enforcement.
All we know for sure is that an injustice has occurred that will never be quite made right: either Manning has gotten away largely unscathed with sexually harassing someone who had no power to effectively confront the team's star player or Manning's name is being tarnished by someone over an immature act that was stupid but not unforgivable.
The media and the public have largely sided with Manning all along. Manning ran some early morning laps as punishment by the school and he later paid an undisclosed settlement to his accuser but he has hardly been significantly damaged by the situation. Manning admits to at least acting immaturely at the time, so the gracious thing for him to do at this point when the subject is raised would be to say something like this (in his own words and with his trademark Southern drawl): "I regret the way I acted on that day. It was foolish and childish and not the way that I was raised. I learned from that incident and have not acted that way again. I am sorry about the pain and embarrassment my actions caused to all parties concerned." Manning would not be in legal or public relations jeopardy after making such a statement.
If Manning had truly done nothing and was a victim of a completely false accusation, then I could understand him being angry and defiant and refusing to apologize--but he has admitted that he did something that was at least inappropriate and the gracious thing to do would be to apologize to that extent as opposed to making unfunny jokes about the situation or quips at his accuser's expense.
In other words, rise above the fray and be the bigger person in the situation. During my law school studies, one thing that I have learned about negotiated settlements of litigation is that many times a matter can resolved by a simple apology; one party feels as if his or her feelings/personhood have been attacked/demeaned and that party simply wants the offending party to acknowledge this.
How many PED cheaters or "recreational" drug abusers just admit to their wrongdoing after being caught red-handed? I don't have any hard and fast numbers on the subject but my subjective impression/recollection is that it is very rare for an athlete to just say something like, "Yeah, you caught me. I did it and I was wrong. I need help for my problem, I am going to get that help and I am going to return after my suspension as a better person and athlete." Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones come to mind as athletes who literally issued bold faced lies when they were first accused of being cheaters.
The most recent elite level athlete to be caught using a banned substance is five-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova. Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance that, frankly, I had never heard of before (meldonium); apparently, meldonium can enhance performance by increasing stamina and endurance, two qualities that would be rather useful for a professional tennis player.
Watching sports is fun because you see competitors on a level playing field pushing themselves mentally, physically and emotionally to be the best within a framework of fair rules. I firmly disagree with the notion that because cheating can be hard to detect there should be no rules; that is like saying that many murders are unsolved so let's legalize murder. Without laws, society would descend into barbarism and without rules sports would have no meaning. Cheating is hard to detect and it is a sad reality that some cheaters will prosper but having rules in place backed by effective enforcement means that many cheaters will be caught and many potential cheaters will be dissuaded by the possibility of being caught.
I also think that the records/statistics of convicted cheaters should be marked in some way by a literal or symbolic asterisk. We don't know when Sharapova started cheating or if this is the only kind of cheating she has done, so to my mind all of her records and statistics are suspect. I think that honors that are awarded by vote should be stripped away from cheaters and given to the non-cheater who received the most votes. For instance, if a baseball player is suspended for PED use at any time in his career then if he won an MVP that MVP should be given to the next player in the voting. Maybe that sounds draconian but I think that it would be a more powerful deterrent to cheating than just about anything else.
In an individual sport like tennis or some track and field events, trophies/medals should be stripped from cheaters.
Team sports are more complicated. While individual honors can and should be taken away as stipulated above, if one player on the 45 man roster of a Super Bowl champion is caught using PEDs, it does not seem fair to punish the whole team; that player should receive a lengthy suspension and a stiff financial penalty. However, if a certain percentage of players from a championship team were found guilty of cheating, I think that it might be reasonable to strip that team of a championship.
The NCAA has "vacated" wins and championships achieved by schools that cheated, which in essence means imposing collective punishment on the innocent and guilty alike.
Harsh penalties are the best way to encourage internal policing within an organization. If an NFL player sees his teammate cheating but knows that the cheating might help the team win and will not have a negative impact on his career then he may look the other way--but if that player knows that widespread cheating could lead to collective punishment then he will be more likely to speak up.