On January 18 of this year, the New England Patriots faced off against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game. By the time the final whistle blew, the Patriots had overwhelmed the Colts 45-7.
Of course we now know that for the first half at least, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady was playing with slightly underinflated balls. The prevailing thought being that this was done intentionally to make the balls easier to catch in the bitter cold of open-air Gillette Stadium.
Whether you believe that Brady and the Pats outright “cheated” or you think that he was only doing what many other QBs do and that it’s simply “part of the game,” we can all agree that it was done outside the rules.
And that’s simply not Competing With Character.
At Boys Town, we instill in our student-athletes a fundamental appreciation for sportsmanship. That means playing hard and playing to win… but it also means playing by the rules so that it’s your skill, drive and intellect that win games – not your ability to pull one over on the refs. It also means accepting and learning from your defeats and celebrating your victories appropriately. We call it Competing With Character, and when our kids compete with character they have fun while learning critical skills that will help them succeed well beyond the playing field.
You see, that’s the really unfortunate thing about “deflategate,” as it’s being called by journalists. It exposes impressionable kids to another path to potential victory – one that is seductively easy. It’s the path of least resistance, where an underhanded trick can replace hard-practiced technique. And if they see a role model engaging in this behavior, maybe they’ll think that it’s ok. And if it’s ok on the playing field, maybe it’s ok in the classroom. Maybe it’s ok in the workplace. At Boys Town, we believe that this path is eventually doomed to failure, which is why we block it early on.
This is why Competing With Character is so important at Boys Town. It’s so much more than just a way to win; it’s a way to succeed at life. So if “deflategate” comes up around your dinner table, rather than discussing whether or not Brady and the Pats cheated or whether they simply engaged in common behavior, perhaps you can use it as a way to discuss sportsmanship and character.
It should be noted that after the underinflated balls were discovered, they were re-inflated to regulation specs at half time – after which the Pats went on to outscore the Colts 28-0. So it turns out that Tom Brady didn’t need that extra “edge” after all. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re a top-tier NFL quarterback or just a kid playing high school ball, it’s ability, determination and execution that win games, not underinflated footballs.