On Thursday, baseball fans outside Harris County, Texas watched in disgust as the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 11–6 to advance to their fourth straight American League Championship Series. The Astros’ playoff run comes almost a year after the news broke that the team had been stealing opposing teams’ signs during their 2017 World Series run. The Astros had a camera in center field sending a live video of the opposing team’s catcher to a monitor in their dugout. When they saw the catcher signal for an off-speed pitch, someone in the dugout would bang on a trash can to let the hitter know the pitch would be a breaking ball.
The sign-stealing scandal is particularly egregious because there is no greater advantage for a MLB hitter than knowing what pitch is coming his way. The MLB suspended Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow a year for their role in the scheme, fined the team $5 million and stripped them of their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two years. To many, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s punishments were not steep enough. Players and fans of the other 29 MLB teams believe that Astros players should have faced discipline while the team should have been forced to relinquish their 2017 World Series Championship title.
As a result of their past transgressions and a lack of accountability from the MLB, the 2020 Houston Astros may be the most universally hated team in MLB history. The hashtag “#BeanTheAstros” went viral and shirts that read “Houston Asterisks” and “Trash-Town” (instead of “H-Town”) flew off the shelves. Make no mistake, this is not a column that is sympathetic to the Astros. Rather, this is a column that asks why other cheating teams haven’t faced the same level of scorn. And by other cheating teams, I mean the New England Patriots.
It is often said that the Tufts community is a political echo chamber, but it also happens to be a sports echo chamber. Boston sports fans dominate the Medford-Somerville campus like Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have dominated the Patriots in the Superbowl. This column is for the silent majority at Tufts, those who would rather go to class shirtless than in a Patriots jersey.
The Patriots’ cheating record in the Bill Belichick era is well documented. In 2007, Belichick was fined the league maximum of $500,000 and the team was docked a first-round draft pick for illegally filming the New York Jets. A 2015 ESPN “Outside The Lines” report found that the 2007 “Spygate” cheating was far worse than previously thought. According to the report, the Patriots had an extensive illegal videotaping system to steal their opponents’ plays, would send low-level employees to opposing teams’ locker rooms and hotels to try to swipe their play sheets and consistently jammed opposing coaches’ headsets.
The next major Patriots cheating scandal was “Deflategate.” At the request of Tom Brady, footballs were deflated by Patriots staffers for the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. After an NFL investigation, Brady was suspended four games and the Patriots lost a first-round draft pick. A saga then ensued when Brady appealed his suspension in court.
Almost every Patriots fan will maintain to this day that their golden boy was innocent. I’ll admit that deflating footballs is a minor offense, but like all infamous cheating scandals, from Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” to Lance Armstrong’s “I have never doped,” it’s the lying and cover-up that matter more than the act itself. All you need to know about “Deflategate” is that the Patriots called their ball boy the “deflator.” After the allegations, they explained that this was his nickname because he was trying to lose weight. Sure. And the “bookie” in my phone is my librarian.
Just last year the Patriots were again caught illegally videotaping another team when a Cincinnati Bengals employee noticed a Patriots film crew in their press box during a game against the Chicago Browns (the Patriots played the Bengals the next week). One cheating scandal is an isolated incident, three is a trend. The film crew claimed to be filming a documentary on the Patriots’ scouting department, but all they filmed for the entire first quarter was the Bengals’ sideline and coaches. When approached by security, the film crew tried to delete the footage. Must’ve been some documentary.
The NFL announced on June 28 that the Patriots’ punishment for filming the Bengals included a ban on videotaping games during the 2020 season, a $1.1 million fine and the loss of a draft pick. In an act of media manipulation that would make the Trump administration proud, the Patriots just so happened to announce the signing of former MVP quarterback Cam Newton on June 28. Guess which story got all the coverage on “SportsCenter”?
Your Patriots fan peers at Tufts will throw out a litany of excuses for their team’s behavior: every team bends the rules, the Patriots are unfairly targeted because they win, you’re just a hater. They will surely bring up their team’s six championship rings; Patriots fans spend more time discussing rings than a recently engaged couple. But you know the truth, and with truth comes power.