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For The Patriots, Without Apology

Memo Pad Sports

For The Patriots, Without Apology


WASHINGTON — I never knew how much fun it was to be loyal to a hated outlaw sports team until the whole world came down on my dear New England Patriots.

Having rooted over the years for Boston teams that many felt sorry for — God help us — and found psychologically interesting, it was a rush to hear MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough the other morning describe my Patriots as a “ruthless killing machine.” Wow!

It’s a long way from the early days of the quarterback-wide receiver combination of Babe Parilli and Gino Cappelletti (he was also a great kicker). Back then, many didn’t even take the upstart American Football League seriously. As a kid, I insisted on being faithful to our local guys, so I’ve been a Pats fan from the day they were created.

And I now understand far better what life is like for those who work as spinmeisters. In a fight like this, you look for whatever arguments come to hand and judge their merits later, in a quiet room with fellow fans.

If those footballs were deflated, why didn’t the refs, who handled them dozens of times, notice? Maybe the balls lost air. Besides, didn’t you catch the fact that Tom Brady did far better with the regulation, non-deflated balls in the second half of the Indianapolis Colts game? And anyway, everybody messes with the football, right?

All Patriots fans are Taylor Swift partisans these days: “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” She didn’t invent the line, but many loyalists are using her buoyant and defiant lyrics to shake off the Pats’ critics as jealous souls who just can’t stand this team’s dominance in the long Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

Already, I can imagine the sighs of impatience from those who think loyalty to professional sports teams is a silly and even pernicious waste of energy. Aren’t they just a bunch of businesses owned by rich guys who use them to make more money and stroke their already large egos by paying a share of that cash to athletes, some of whom get wealthy themselves? Didn’t we see what a moral mess the National Football League made of the Ray Rice affair?

And isn’t loyalty itself a questionable virtue that can lead people to overlook many ethical issues and to ignore more important moral callings?

On the last question, I share what the 19th-century philosopher Josiah Royce called a “loyalty to loyalty.” Of course loyalty can be misplaced, as Royce acknowledged. “A family engaged in a murderous feud, a pirate crew, a savage tribe, a Highland robber clan of the old days — these might constitute causes to which somebody has been, or is, profoundly loyal,” Royce wrote, and he agreed that such relationships are problematic.

But even though loyalties can be misplaced, a life lived without them makes no sense. They are defined by the legal scholar George Fletcher in his fine book Loyalty as obligations “implied in every person’s sense of being historically rooted in a set of defining familial, institutional, and national relationships.” There really are, he argues, “groups and individuals that have entered into our sense of who we are.”

For many, sports teams become part of this fabric, usually through powerful regional ties (I really do love New England), bonds of friendship (only a fellow fan could understand what it felt like to lose the 2008 Super Bowl to the Giants, or to win the “Snow Bowl” against the Raiders in 2002), and the draw of history (see everything above).

Do the owners of these teams exploit such feelings? You bet, which is why fans feel so outraged and betrayed when a team gets moved from one place to another. But is there anything intrinsically wrong with their loyalties, or with the admiration of fans for heroism in an athletic encounter involving “their” team? I don’t think so.

Given such strong sentiments, the people who own these teams have an obligation to stewardship that they don’t always discharge. Even as a profoundly loyal Patriots fan, I’d be upset if the team and the league simply threw a locker room attendant under the bus to get out of their problem. Loyalty runs both ways, and it most certainly extends to the locker room attendant. (And if he did deflate 11 balls in 90 seconds, he should have been in the Pro Bowl.)

But I know which side I’ll be on this Sunday, without any mental reservations. The Patriots, including the attendant, are my guys.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: New England celebrates after their second touchdown during the first half on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (John Woike/Hartford Courant/TNS)

E. J. Dionne

Besides contributing to The National Memo, E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and a university professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2013).

  • 1


  1. 2010HDSTGLIDE January 29, 2015

    Go Pats!

  2. Jambi January 29, 2015

    I have a funny feeling that the SeaHawks are going to pressure your boy Brady….They can’t allow him to stand “Statue-Like” and launch darts at their banged-up secondary….

  3. Gary Miles January 29, 2015

    One or two deflated balls is one thing, eleven is cheating, period. The Patriots didn’t need to cheat, yet, they did and it appears they got caught. If they throw the attendant under the bus, I hope he squeals like a piglet and fries whoever “directed” him to do his dirty little deed. The Patriot’s, have a history of cheating under the current head coach and quarterback. I guess in New England, the ends really do justify the means. Shameful.

    1. Michael Ross January 31, 2015


      Do me a favor: The next time you see a 250 lb. player with the ball go down on top of it, followed by six or seven 300 lb. players piling in top of the player with the ball, just try and tell us with a straight face that the ball probably didn’t lose any air pressure during that play.

  4. JSHarvey1961 January 29, 2015

    Well, cheaters or not “your guys” are going to get beat. 🙂

    1. Michael Ross February 3, 2015


  5. silas1898 January 29, 2015

    Belichick has a long history of cheating. He hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years and I hope he never wins another one.

    1. Michael Ross January 31, 2015

      One instance that had no affect on the game anyway is not a “long history.”

      What Belichick has instead is a long history of rivals bawling their eyes out and demanding rule changes every time they lose to the Patriots.

  6. Michael Ross January 31, 2015

    The Patriots are my home team as well, but I’ll be rooting for them for an entirely different reason: To see if Marshawn and the Seahawks are as much whiny little bitches as the Colts and the Ravens proved themselves to be, and to have a nice hearty gut-laugh at whatever stupid crap they whip up if/when they also accuse the Patriots of cheating.

    When the Packers lost control of a massive lead over the Seahawks, nobody (to my knowledge) accused the Seahawks of cheating, and everyone owned up to the fact that they lost. Likewise, when the Saints lost to the Panthers, a team that went into the playoffs with a controversial losing record, again (to my knowledge) nobody accused the Panthers of cheating.

    For this, the Packers and the Saints have all of the respect that the Ravens and the Colts lost when they responded to losing by throwing temper tantrums.

    I likewise respect the Patriots because, even when they lost the Superbowl at the end of a perfect 18-0 season, every single one of them said the loss was nobody’s fault but their own, even though the Giants (who are now my absolute least favorite team of any sport in any country solely based on their complete and total douchebaggish behavior before and after the game) came into the game reeking to high Hell of arrogance, clearly acting like they knew something the rest of us did not.

    The Patriots have never blamed anyone but themselves, and that’s not something cheaters are renowned for.

    I prefer the name “BallGhazi” over “DeflateGate” for this reason — because it, like Benghazi, is just a load of hot air that only hasn’t been allowed to disperse because a bunch of whiny sore losers are desperately clinging to it.


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