In an open letter to his sons penned in the wake of the New England Patriots cheating scandal, photographer Vincent Pugliese talks about the ultimate consequences of cheating.
I want to talk to you about dishonesty.
I struggled with dishonesty in my teens almost as much as I struggled with acne. It started with little tiny lies when I was very young. Like that time I tried to get out of eating my potato for dinner by hiding it in the fruit bowl when my parents weren’t looking.
Before I knew it, I was cheating on my road test to get my drivers license. The roots of big lies always begin with little lies.
I had the really cool assignment of photographing the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts a few Sundays ago. While your mom was eating Chuck E Cheese pizza with three rambunctious little boys, I leaned back in the press room deciding what I should eat first. The lobster wraps? New England Clam Chowder or Lobster Bisque? Probably best to grab both. Maybe I should include the Rueben Sandwich? The wide array of desserts? Don’t worry, boys, I had them all. I even had some of the pizza they supplied at halftime. I couldn’t let you be the only ones getting pizza.
Even though the game was a blowout- a 45-7 whitewash by the Patriots- there was an underlying theme of history attached to this game. If the Patriots won, Tom Brady would be the first quarterback in NFL history to advance to six Super Bowls. That’s pretty big time right there. In twenty or thirty years, that will be even more revered.
When I am not being an impartial photojournalist, I am a big time Steelers fan. Have been since I was seven-years-old. So the sight of Tom Brady winning makes my stomach turn slightly. In the Patriots-Steelers rivalry, Brady is the Harlem Globetrotters while the Steelers become the Washington Generals. He almost always wins, especially in the big games.
I worked the sidelines Sunday evening attempting to make decent photographs while the rain came down in sheets. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, “Have You Every Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival blasted from the Gillette Stadium sound system. An impromptu singalong took place among nearly 69,000 close friends. I turned my cameras towards the Patriots sidelines to find some of the players singing along as well. I had to nod my rain-soaked head in appreciation of what a cool moment that was.
For the first time in forever, I didn’t despise the Patriots. I fixed my lens on Brady as he strolled the sidelines. Congratulating each teammate with a giant smile, my years of frustration towards this man seemed to go away. His picture appeared on the big screen during a time out and instead of ignoring it like many athletes do, he did a cool thing by acknowledging the sold out crowd. Pumping him fist, the vocal crowd cheered wildly. When he took it a step further by standing and cheering them on, the place went bananas.
I despised him because he was so good, I finally admitted. If he was on my team, the three of you would all have his jerseys. As the clock ticked towards 0:00, I prepared myself for the scrum that takes place on the field as photographers battle each other for positioning while the players celebrate. My one focus was on Brady. This was now history.
After the post game celebration ended, Brady quickly and quietly ran towards the locker room. I followed and was surprised to be the only photographer running alongside. As Brady entered the dark tunnel, I was right alongside when teammate Tim Wright came in to congratulate the quarterback. They teamed for a quick handshake and I shot the behind the scenes photograph that I hoped for.
As I dried off on the media shuttle back to the hotel, I finally had to admit their greatness. I drove home with my mind changed about that team. I kind of like them, I thought to myself. I’ll always be a Steelers fan, but I don’t despise them any longer. They finally won me over.
They had been such a hard team to like not only because of their success, but because of their previous dishonesty. They were caught filming opponents coaches illegally to figure out their signals. The Patriots were fined $500,000 and lost draft picks. More importantly, their character was questioned. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in that time and they still have not shaken the cheating label. There is even a name to that scandal: Spygate.
That was eight years ago, and even though the stench of that scandal hasn’t gone away, Sunday night they put away the notion in my mind that they needed to cheat to win.
And as I drove back to Pittsburgh, A report on the radio stated that the Patriots were accused of deflating footballs during the game. I laughed. The Super Bowl hype has commenced. By the next morning, the story seemed to grow. Only this time it seemed more credible. The NFL was investigating whether the Patriots under inflated the balls in their possession so Brady could get a better grip. This story seemed silly compared to Spygate.
Until a credible report came out that majority of footballs in the Patriots possession were deflated. What’s the big deal, you might ask. Don’t the Colts play with the same footballs? Well, no. Each team brings it’s own set of footballs that are inspected prior to the game. Somewhere between the inspection and the game, 91% percent of the footballs were deflated significantly. 0% of the Colts footballs were deflated.
So, instead of talking about Tom Brady’s legacy, the sports world is talking about them cheating- again. Instead of asking if Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, they are asking whether he was part of the deceit.
Being that the Patriots had been caught cheating already, they have lost the benefit of the doubt. And now their lack of trust will follow them to the Super Bowl. And beyond.
And there is the real problem. When you lose trust, everything you do from now on is questioned.
If you cheat in Monopoly and get caught, guess what’s going to happen next time we play? Everyone will keep their eyes on you more. And even when you win, people will wonder if you cheated. Even if you didn’t.
Forget Tom Brady for a minute. Can you imagine being on the Patriots but you didn’t participate in the cheating? You worked your butt off for your entire life to get to this point. You never cheated a day in your life. You just won the AFC Championship and you are about to live out your dream by playing in the Super Bowl.
Can you imagine what it would be like, on the eve of your greatest professional achievement, being accused of cheating? And when you answer no honestly, that nobody believes you? That’s called guilt by association.
These are some of the consequences of dishonesty.
On Sunday night, we’ll gather in the living room with pizza and watch the Super Bowl together. The Patriots will battle the Seattle Seahawks for the world championship. But it’s not going to have the same feeling as past Super Bowls. Because of the repeated dishonesty, the nation will look at New England’s success with suspicious eyes. If they win- no matter what the score- there will be a question of whether they got there fairly.
So when I look at that picture that I shot at the end of the AFC championship, I might not think of this being a pivotal moment during the career of the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. What might be in the back of my mind is if they cheated to get there.
I want you to understand nobody decides to start cheating during the AFC championship game. If they cheated then, there was a lot of practice that led up to it. It always starts with the small lies. Like me switching the potato when I was nine. A harmless little lie here, another one there, and before I knew it, I had created some real life problems for myself.
My parents still talk about the potato incident. We laugh about it now, but it truly set off a sequence of distrust that I brought upon myself. Over time, I lost the benefit of the doubt. Just like the Patriots. It’s not about deflated footballs. It’s about trust. If they are willing to cheat in one of the biggest games of the year, what would stop them from cheating during week six? Or training camp? Or the Super Bowl?
Vince Lombardi, the hall-of-fame head coach, led the Green Bay Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls. He has many famous sayings, including one that states that winning is the only thing that matters. But a less famous quote of his is one that I want you to understand well.
“If you cheat in practice, you’ll cheat in the game. If you cheat in the game, you’ll cheat in life.”
Photo Credit: Author
This post originally appeared at The Into The Uncommon Blog.