I know about small capillaries. Ridiculed for years at my self-diagnosed claims about them, medical science has vindicated me. (The prior link is illustrative of a small-capillary syndrome and not specifically indicative of mine. Although, the “smallish brain” and accompanied by “brain abnormalities” is certainly familiar.) Even still, my diagnosis remains largely anecdotal, from extremities that won’t warm promptly to um . . . well, extremities that won’t warm promptly, if you know what I mean.
In violation of league rules, Tom Brady’s balls were not properly inflated to start the second half of the AFC Championship game Sunday, which the Patriots won lopsidedly, 45-7.
Prevailing theories on why the balls shrunk, include:
1. Improper handling;
2. Severe cold;
3. Equipment constriction; and
4. The unexpected presence of Tom Brady’s wife in the locker room
(Really, guys?? And, to think we all share 99.9% the same DNA structure with these two genetic freakazoids. Holy crap.)
Anyway, the above are all traditional ball deflation culprits, of course. The cause of the shrinkage in this present case, however, may never truly be known.
But, a response narrative has arisen among many pundits and fans:
That it doesn’t matter whether or not shrunken balls affected the outcome of the game, it is a clear violation of the rule, worthy of both severe penalty and moral outrage.
But, this is literally the definition of legalism, right? That the perfectly technical enforcement of the letter of the law is somehow more important than discretion. That the value of the advantage gained is of no consequence; only the strict improrpriety of the conduct should control our view. But, that’s why sentencing guidelines produce uncomfortable result. And history treats pharisees unkind. And, Republicans look out of touch.
Not all cheating is created equal. It just isn’t. J-walking is not plagiarism is not embezzlement. So, how do we measure the reasonableness of our disdain?
In sports, our cheating taboo can be broken into two concerns:
One, over Performance Enhancement - was advantage given?
Two, over Game Confidence - is the outcome of the game credible/reliable?
This conceptualization is of course a little artificial. There are categories of cheating which qualify as both.
But, we have concerns about both Barry Bonds and Shoeless Joe as cheaters but for dissimilar reasons. Bonds threatens our sense of fair play, while The Black Sox shake our institutional confidence in the athletic product. George Brett v. Pete Rose. Pine Tar v. Gambling. We want to be able to rely on what we see as true and not professional wrestling theater. And, we want there to be a semblance of fairness, at least in opportunity if not in talent or the distribution thereof.
They both offend deeply. And, maybe personally more with respect to cheating of the Performance Enhancement kind. But, intellectually, I think most would agree that cheating in Game Confidence is a more systemic and, therefore, more serious danger. That’s why Pete Rose and the 8 men out are banned for life.
Our concerns over Performance Enhancement cheating can be further broken into two types:
1. In game rules violations
2. Acts of extrinsic premedition
The latter is generally seen as more repugnant. So we typically deride vasoline on the brim of the pitcher’s cap differently than we do offensive holding by the left guard. Both, however, are cheating insofar as they are technical violations of rule and disadvantageously aid performance. But, there is something about the premeditation of the vasoline and it’s “otherness” to the game that raises a kind of personal ire that a holding call, even one unpenalized, does not. The prohibition on applying foreign substance to the hardball is not really a rule of game play. It helps to manage the level field, in its consistency, predictability, and equity. But, it’s not like three outs per inning or the requirement that a base runner tag before advancing on a caught fly ball. So we tend to forgive pass interference and foot faults and even things like intentional hand balls or the unapologetic carrying of the dribble but lose our minds over underinflated footballs.
No one, including the Colts themselves, seems to think a regulation ball would have made a musket powder’s worth of Patriot difference in the outcome of the game. So, is the outrage justified?
Real quick. I’m a Washington Redskins fan. But, when they are disqualified for too numerous losses, as so routinely they are, I want the Patriots to win every single possible game. Please briefly skim this prior post as to why.
So I don’t care if Tom Brady personally used a bike pump to syphon off the air. My only frustration is that the issue has allowed other people to detract from the accomplishment of one of the greatest sports franchises in history. That is my personal stake.
So when I say the reaction is reasonably justified, it’s a conclusion against interest. I wanted to write a blong saying you all were redic. But, it wasn’t to be. That’s because I am a bastion of intellectual honesty.
We (as in you all) hate Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots because the shrunk balls are a kind of exacerbating voltron of the previously described types of cheating. In other words, all of the above. The thought is that the footballs have given some performance advantage to the thrower of them. And although maybe infinitesimally so in the context of this particular contest, the performance enhancement is of the most notorious kind — an act of extrinsic premeditation. Said differently, the lack of obvious game advantage, which should otherwise mitigate (y)our offense, is neutralized in one’s internal calculus for the apparent intentionality of the conduct. Moreover, in this case, the flaccid balls play into a broader Game Confidence narrative on the Patriots as recidivist cheats who have undermined the integrity of the game and compromised the reliability of numerous outcomes before, à la Spygate. A course of disingenuous conduct.
So how do we actually quantify the reasonableness of our feigned moral outrage over any particular incident of cheating? How do we know how offended to be?
As it happens, I have an algorithm.
The Moral Outrage Methodology (MOM)
(Isn’t it appropriate that the function would be named for the one person most uniformly proficient at moral outrage? A mom?)
The components, and accompanying set of possible values, for the equation, are as follows.
Performance Enhancement Function (PEF)
Game-Play Rules Additer (GRA):
Value 1 for typical rules infractions – common violations of game play rules
Value 2 for egregious rules infractions – personal fouls, habitual conduct
Extrinsic Premeditation Additur (EPA)
Values 3-8 (including all intermediate values to the nearest tenth; values start at 3 because, as discussed above, all extrinsic premeditation cheating is more repugnant than game play rules violations)
* considerations may include “otherness to the game”, physical risk posed
Effect on Game Multiplier (EOG)
Values 1-3 (Level 1 value – de minimis effect; Level 2 – significant effect; Level 3 – arguably dispositive effect)
Game Confidence Function (GCF)
Acts in Furtherance of the Deception Additur (AFD)
Values 1-5 (including all intermediate values to the nearest tenth)
* considerations may include number and authority of people involved, complexity of scheme, reprehensibility of individual predicate acts
Institutional Confidence Additur (ICA)
Values 1-10 (including all intermediate values to the nearest tenth)
* considerations may include whether confidence is shaken in individual game, series, or entire season; the association of betting or other self-dealing
Contextual Multiplier (CM)
* considerations include historical pattern of similar conduct, were the participants a surprise or predictable as cheaters (could factor either way), stake of game, coverup
So the Expanded MOM equation looks like this:
(GRA + EPA)EOG + (AFD + IC)CM = Moral Outrage
And, the Simplified MOM looks like this:
PEF + GCF = Fury
Applied to Deflategate, the ball pressure is not a game play rule, like holding. It’s an equipment regulation. Like no gold cleats, Marshawn Beastmode. So, there’s no GRA to speak of.
The EPA is interesting. The alleged acts certainly required premediation and likely coordination of at least two individuals and, presuposing “cheating,” intentionality. (Remember, the MOM is not intended to calculate the degree or presence of cheating but our reasonable outrage over it, wherever it exists.) Deflation of the ball is not supremely “other.” Not a shiv in the sock or foreign adhesive on a glove. Just an adjustment of standard issue equipment. It posed no particular bodily risk. In fact, the softer ball would be, albeit imperceptibly so, more gently and comfortably received by wideouts and opposing DBs. I would liberally set an EPA of 3.7 out of 8.
As to the EOG, there appears to be consensus that whatever advantage the deflated balls of Brady gave Tom, it was inconsequential to the actual outcome of this particular game and, therefore, de minimis. Level 1 multiplier.
The PEF looks like this = (0 + 3.7)1 = 3.7 out of a possible 30.
The PEF affirms the view that the contribution to outrage over the performance effect of the deflated balls would be essentially zero but for the premeditation of the conduct. And, even then, relative to the available scale of values, fairly low.
The AFD is complicated by the mystery still surrounding the details. We don’t really know the story. But, again, assuming actual cheating, a fairly important person was almost certainly in the middle, most probably future Hall of Famer and Blue Steel, Tom Brady. Although, possible, it’s unlikely the ball boy goes rogue in this respect. Maybe not right before this game, but a ball boy would be operating on the preference, professed at some point, of a reasonably significant authority. But, it was not a super sophisticated scheme. This isn’t Pinky and the Brain grandeur. It makes Spygate look like War Games. As to the reprehensibility of intermediate acts, modest. No hostages were taken. Retirement accounts squandered. Or knees shattered. Just ball emasculation.
I have the AFD right at 2.9 out of 5. This is fairly high level stuff, if not complicated or dastardly.
The ICA? We don’t believe the outcome of this game was significantly compromised but how long has this been occurring. I mean, they don’t get busted on the very first deflationary attempt do they? How many “close” games were maybe partially swung by Tom’s comfort with the balls? We don’t have to answer the question in any exact way to simply acknowledge that Deflategate raises the question? What has been the overall effect? For how long? How much aggregate benefit has there been? That it legitimately rattles confidence even to this degree matters. I think a lot.
But, because any single instance of ball deflation would have relatively little effect and only the collective total of all such instances would be consequential and because we don’t have any good and particular reason to assume any type of longevity of the conduct, the ICA is mitigated some where it might be higher. I would put the ICA at 6.7, out of 10, but could be persuaded to an increase.
But, the Pats really get bit on the CM. There’s just too much smoke through the years. The Patriots have pushed every limit and breached some. And, we only know what has been exposed. They are purposefully cloistered about the details of their preparation as much as is permitted. Plus, it was an AFC Championship, table-setting their sixth Belichickian Super Bowl. The CM is an easy 3.
So, the GCF = (2.9 + 6.7)3 = 28.8 out of 45
So our total moral outrage , out of the high possible score of 75, should be 32.5.
I’ve surprised even myself with the intuitive accuracy of this result. And, I made it all up. Because, this output feels about right, right? That our moral outrage over deflateable gate should only be about 43% of our total available outrage for cheating? We can imagine scenarios deserving of a good bit more — widespread, systemic gambling and manipulation of game results — and many much less outrageous — hidden ball trick. If true, this is a bad instance of cheating worthy of a not so insignificant amount of outrage. But, it’s also not the end of the known sports world.
So, there’s no guessing. Next time someone asks you whether you care about Deflategate, you don’t have to equivocate or surmise.
Your exactly 43% morally outraged.
Again. You’re welcome. This is my calling.
Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by Nomis.
Lyrics to come, yo.
Today’s blong here:
Cheaters Always Win