Editor’s Note: John Berman is the co-anchor of CNN’s “Early Start” and “@THIS HOUR” and a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Reports the Patriots used deflated balls create existential crisis for John Berman
The lifelong Patriots fan asks how he can still root for a cheater?
Shame on me.
If the reports are true, and somehow the New England Patriots deflated 11 balls in the AFC Championship Game, then shame on me.
Screw them, and shame on me.
I am 42, and have been a New England Patriots fan for 42 years, plus nine months when you include that prenatal season. (While your mother was listening to Mozart, mine was listening to Gil Santos talk about Jim Plunkett.)
In fact, at this point in my life, I essentially do only three things: 1) Anchor at CNN, 2) help raise twin 7-year-old boys and 3) root for Boston sports teams. And if I am being honest, the one I am best at is No. 3. I am a really good Boston sports fan. There are few better. And the Patriots are ruining all my hard work, debasing my skills and tainting the hours upon hours of joy that fandom gave me.
This is an existential crisis. How can you root for a cheater? How can you award malfeasance? How can you cheer a con? You can’t. At least you shouldn’t. I shouldn’t cheer for the Patriots. I know that, no matter what my genetic coding says.
I am not going to dwell on the specifics of the accusations, or the physics of what advantage you get from deflated footballs. The fact is, if the reports are true, the balls the Patriots used had way too little air in them. Well below what the league allows. Well below what the rules allow. And if they did it deliberately – and I am struggling to think of any way it could have happened otherwise – there is a word for that: cheating. They cheated. And how can you root for a cheater? You can’t. At least you shouldn’t. I know that.
For all the Patriots playoff games this year, my sons and I have all donned our No. 12 Tom Brady jerseys. We wore them because Brady is so darn good, so darn handsome and so full of the values of hard work and perseverance that you want your sports icons to embody. Or so we thought. Did he have any knowledge or any involvement in deflating footballs? Oh God, I hope not. But can I guarantee you that he didn’t? Nope. Not even close. So how can I wear his jersey for the Super Bowl? I can’t. At least I shouldn’t. I know that.
The worst part of this is, deep down inside, I might have known all this already. The Patriots have a history of pushing the limits. (Do I now really just have to call it cheating?) They were penalized and sanctioned for illegally videotaping an opposing team. I managed to compartmentalize that, buy my kids their Patriots gear and cheer for them anyway, perhaps hoping that it was some kind of anomaly. It doesn’t look like it was. Not today.
I know football is just a game, and the Patriots demolished the Colts 45-7, and clearly would have beaten them even if they played with a ball made of marshmallow fluff. But that just makes it worse. They didn’t need to cheat.
Look, no one needs to cheat. It is a choice, and it is the wrong choice. And it is not a choice I want to condone somehow – tacitly or otherwise – to my 7-year-old boys. I have spent so much emotional capital and enthusiasm raising them as Patriots fans while living in New York, and now I am beginning to regret it. I fear I have led them down the path to the dark side. Maybe they can still be saved.
I can’t. Being a sports fan is not a purely rational thing. Do I want the Patriots to lose the Super Bowl? No. I am just not wired that way. But I know I should. And that is why I am ashamed. Angry and ashamed.