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Cheaters never Win

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Neither NFL team I was rooting for on Sunday won.

Not that I had any strong allegiance to any of the four teams playing for their respective division titles. It mostly came down to picking Green Bay for sentimental reasons and Indianapolis because the Patriots just bug me–the team as a whole and Tom Brady in particular. Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 1.03.24 PM

Now it turns out that the NFL is investigating allegations of cheating by the New England Patriots. The focus of the investigation is whether the team intentionally deflated footballs used in Sunday’s game, which to me seems incredibly silly considering that the Pats tromped the Colts 45-7. I hardly think properly inflated footballs would have made much of a difference. Indianapolis was simply outmatched and outplayed on this particular Sunday. If New England cheated, they didn’t need to, and if found guilty, the punishment will most likely be the loss of a couple of draft picks. They’re still going to the Big Game.

“Deflate-gate” is just the latest in a string of accusations of cheating by the Patriots and will likely come to nothing. What’s the big deal? Should we simply follow quarterback Tom Brady’s lead and laugh it off?

"I think I've heard it all at this point. That's the last of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this." --Tom Brady

“I think I’ve heard it all at this point. That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.” –Tom Brady

Maybe. But maybe not. I don’t know what will come of this latest investigation, but I do know that in previous controversies involving the Patriots the team wasn’t technically cheating. They stay within the rules, but many question whether they conform to the spirit of the rules and fair competition.*

That’s what bugs me.

It’s only cheating if you get caught.

Wait, check that. It’s only cheating if you get caught AND they can prove beyond any doubt that you cheated, in the meantime, quit your whining and accept that WE ARE WINNERS! I’m not picking on the Patriots, the world is awash in people taking short cuts, taking advantage and jumping through loopholes to get to the top.

Between 1999 and 2005, Lance Armstrong was credited to have won the Tour de France an unprecedented seven consecutive times.

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He became a larger than life symbol of excellence and overcoming adversity, all the while consistently and voraciously denying any accusations that he used performance enhancing drugs. He even went so far as to sue journalists, friends and colleagues who accused him of doping. If he was cheating and getting away with it, there had to be a massive cover up involving numerous people, which is exactly what happened.

In the aftermath of his finally admitting that he was cheating all along, he not only brought shame on himself and the sport of cycling, but sullied the name of LiveStrong, his cancer awareness charity which has raised over 500 million dollars. (They have since cut ties with Armstrong.)

Cheating created an international superstar far beyond the sport of cycling, but Armstrong will forever be remembered for his deception, not his contribution to the sport. Meanwhile, a $100 million law suit and an arbitration for multiple millions more threaten to take away his considerable personal fortune.

Winning isn’t everything.
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Especially when it costs you everything.

*One notable exception: The NFL determined that the Patriots illegally videotaped opponents from 2002 to 2007. Roger Goodell fined the team $250,000, and stripped New England of a first-round draft choice. Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the largest financial penalty against a coach ever.

At all costs

As I write this post, I’m sitting on what was probably once a nice leather couch. But after years of providing seating for big, sweaty athletes, there’s more duct tape visible than leather. That’s okay. This facility was not designed for comfort, it was designed to train athletes. The couch is just outside the room reserved for what they call speed and agility training. There’s another one just down the hall outside the weight room. I spend five evenings a week sitting on one of these couches, watching my son being pushed beyond the boundaries of what’s expected as a freshman offensive lineman. It’s been a good investment. In the two months since his initial training session here at Next Level Athletics, he’s lost some baby fat around his middle, gained 12 pounds and is stronger and faster than ever before.

He’s been more devoted to this program than I expected. With the exception of a few days off due to illness and a couple of days off for Christmas and New Years, we’ve been here for two days of speed and agility training and three days of weight training every week. This is all in addition to the off-season training he does at school. My son is a big fan of the weight training, probably due in no small part to the attention he’s received for his newly bulging chest and biceps.

The speed and agility training? Not so much.

I wouldn’t say he hates it, but it’s hard, grueling, sometimes vomit-inducing work. (That’s just weakness leaving the body, as one of the coaches might say. Yeah, it’s pretty hard core.) The results of which aren’t readily apparent. Those results will be seen on the football field. In the mind of a 15 year old, delayed gratification isn’t high on the list of priorities.

Yesterday he begged off Day One of speed training. I grudgingly allowed him to skip it with the understanding that he would not miss today’s training session for any reason. So when he called me today from school and casually mentioned they did speed training during athletics, I was already preparing myself to hear his argument against going tonight.

As expected, he tried to get out of it. He even went so far as to find an old text from me stating that I was going to talk to Coach Rey (the owner of Next Level Athletics) about adjusting his workout schedule so he wouldn’t be doing speed training at NLA on the same days as he did it at school. Did I mention he’s also on the debate team?

But I wasn’t having any of that. My decision had nothing to do with the actual workout. He didn’t need another speed training session. What he did need was to understand that when you give someone your word that you’re going to do something, you do it. He needs to know that you don’t let your mouth write checks that your actions can’t cover.

He’s sweating pretty heavily right now. He’s grimaced more than once. One of the kids in his training group keeps knocking over the step hurdles. Every hurdle knocked over equates to 20 push ups for everyone. They’re up to about 100 so far. I just smiled at him. He didn’t smile back. But when walks out of here, he won’t regret that he came. He never does. He’s beginning to understand that most things worth having don’t come cheap. He’ll understand this concept more when he suits up for spring football. He will have earned his position on that field–paid for with long hours in the gym, dedication, sweat and no small amount of pain.

I don’t know if my son will play football after high school. The odds aren’t in his favor. The percentage of high school players who go on to play in college is around 6%. Of that 6% that manage to play in college, only 1% will get drafted by the NFL.

There are ways to increase your odds. I’ve heard stories of kids my son’s age and younger using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in order to tip the scales in their favor. Some may go on to great careers and lives of luxury and influence. They will be heralded as heroes and role models.

Much like Lance Armstrong,

who might have been a cycling phenomenon without cheating, without bullying, without threatening and suing those who dare question his integrity and generally being a gigantic asshole.

He could have been remembered as a legendary cyclist, philanthropist, survivor and role model.

Lance Armstrong pictured with the jerseys he wore in his seven Tour de France victories, all of which he obtained by cheating.

Instead he discovered that winning at all costs might very well cost you everything.