The 243-page Wells Report is finally out, and it says that it’s “probable” that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots deflated game footballs to make them easier for him to grip and receivers to catch in the first half of their 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in January’s AFC Championship game. But apparently that’s not the only “scandal” here. Our own Tommy Christopher thinks he’s found a racial component that supposedly typifies white privilege.
In a piece on Thursday calling for the Patriots to be stripped of their Super Bowl XLIX title against the Seattle Seahawks, Tommy highlighted the case of the Chicago West Jackie Robinson team that was stripped of its 2014 Little League World Series title after it was found to have used players who lived outside its designated recruiting area. Here’s how Tommy framed that story:
“Race became a central issue in the case of the Little League scandal, with the league’s defenders pointing out that there was precedent for their action, but those two precedents (the Danny Almonte-led Bronx team and the 1992 champions from the Philippines) both involved players of color. Either white championship teams never cheat, or they don’t receive the same level of scrutiny.”
First of all, just because Jesse Jackson and some Chicago sports radio hosts suggested that the act of stripping the title from — and let’s really emphasize this here — their local Little League team may have been racially motivated, that doesn’t mean race in fact was “a central issue” in the story. All it means is that the hometown fans were willing to make the story about anything other than they fact that their team was caught red-handed. Not even Al Sharpton bit on this one.
Second of all, just because two other teams that were sanctioned after being caught cheating consisted of players of color, that doesn’t mean something nefarious is at work. Tommy’s piece alleges that non-white teams face more “scrutiny.” But for whatever reason, he doesn’t mention the Peachtree City, Ga. Little League team that just last year was stripped of its state and district titles. That team had twelve players who were 12 years old, when only eight are allowed. Here’s the team’s 2014 picture:
This predominantly white team isn’t included in Tommy’s piece, and it just so happens to undermine his argument.
Furthermore, in the case of the aforementioned Philippines team that used ineligible players from all across the country, that whistle was blown by a Filipino sportswriter named Al Mendoza, who subsequently became vilified in his own country. So here, the scrutiny of the Philippines team actually came from a Filipino.
In the case of Bronx team, its star pitcher — Danny Almonte — was so tall and had such a ridiculously dominant fastball that, quite naturally, teams he had competed against were the first to raise questions about his age. As it turns out, Almonte was 14 years old during the 2001 Little World Series, which is for 10-12 year-olds. You can imagine how a kid who’d already hit puberty dominating a league meant for prepubescent kids might raise some red flags.
When Tommy says about Little League World Series teams, “Either white championship teams never cheat, or they don’t receive the same level of scrutiny,” he’s lobbing a giant red herring designed to get you to think that there’s a conspiracy by white people out to embarrass Little League teams with predominantly nonwhite players. However, as the examples above show, that’s not the case. And if he has evidence that other Little League teams have cheated, let him present it.
But now here comes a sleight of hand. Behold:
“Similarly, the Brady situation is being cast by many as a test case for white privilege, and whether his golden-boy status will save him from punishment worthy of his infraction. Stripping his team of a Super Bowl trophy might well be a practical impossibility, but what message does failing to do so send to all those Jackie Robinson West kids, for whom sportsmanship meant a supreme disappointment that they, themselves, had no hand in? If you’re a black kid, and some grownups catch some other grownups cheating, you lose everything. If you’re a grown white cheater, you sit out a few games, maybe.”
So, “the Brady situation is being cast by many as a test case for white privilege”? Tommy’s piece is actually the first I’ve heard Deflategate being about white privilege. And indeed, a Google search of, brady white privilege, yields one applicable result — a rant by some obscure radio host in January. That’s “many,” apparently.
Also, just think of his syllogism at play here:
— An all black Little League baseball team was stripped of its title after it was confirmed the team cheated.
— A mixed race National Football League team probably won’t be stripped of its title after its white quarterback probably (but wasn’t confirmed to have) cheated.
— Therefore, white privilege is why the Patriots won’t be stripped of their title.
What a conclusion.
Also, regarding scrutiny, no team in the four major professional sports has received more scrutiny over the last decade than the New England Patriots. Between Spygate, Deflategate, and baseless allegations of tampering by historically inept franchises like the New York Jets, the Patriots have had a target on their backs thanks in large part because of their success as a team and the fact that the head coach doesn’t care what other coaches, the league, the fans, or reporters in his own city care about him. And the NFL has punished them for Spygate and will likely do so for Deflategate.
One could respond that the Patriots haven’t been forced to vacate any titles or wins like the Jackie Robinson all-stars. But if we’re really going to compare different leagues and sports, then where does the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s lifetime suspension of the white Lance Armstrong figure in? Or the stripping of Armstrong’s seven titles by the Tour de France? Or the stripping of white Floyd Landis’ 2006 title? Where does Major League Baseball’s lifetime ban of white Pete Rose for betting on his own team factor in? Where do the eight white Chicago White Sox banned for life for throwing the 1919 World Series go? Or the NFL’s 1963 suspension of white players Alex Karras and Paul Hornung for the 1963 season? Or the NFL’s year-long suspension of white New Orleans Saints coaches Sean Payton and Gregg Williams for running a bounty program?
The answer is they don’t go anywhere in Tommy’s piece. That’s because they’re counterexamples to a ridiculous narrative, according to which we can neatly compare different types of cheating (or alleged cheating) across different types of leagues (professional and amateur) for different types of sports, look at the punishments meted out in each case, and then draw grand conclusions about the state of race relations in the United States and maybe even beyond.
None of this is to say there’s no such thing as white privilege (there is) or that racism isn’t a problem anymore (it is). But not everything has to be a racial “test case,” or be racially-motivated, or has to have something — anything — to do with race. And to make Deflategate about anything other than underinflated footballs and the NFL not wanting to admit that its biggest annual event might’ve been “illegitimate” and then vacate a title for the first time ever is a stretch in the extreme.