STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're also tracking this story; the New England Patriots say they will not appeal NFL penalties for underinflated footballs. Quarterback Tom Brady says he will appeal. Our commentator, Frank Deford, has been thinking of what broken rules mean for sports.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Sport may be dismissed as inconsequential child's play. But there is, in counterpoint, the ideal that sport is our best model for human fairness and equality, a Garden of Eden with competition. But, of course, there are snakes in the athletic garden too, so rules will be broken. To my mind, there are, in ascending order, three kinds of transgressions. The first is simplest, those committed in the heat of the action instinctively because of frustration, failure, anger. There's referees to tend to that misconduct. The second type of violation falls more in the realm of regulation, like who's eligible to play. There are age restrictions, for instance, in youth sport, academic requirements in college. And, as with any civil enterprise, sport can deny entrance to the garden to those who misbehave in the public sphere - thou shalt not batter women or children - if, alas, that's most famously more honored in the breach. But then, finally, there are the violations against the very nature of the game, these, invariably, premeditated. In any sport, once the lines are drawn, what we have on the field are, in toto, athletes and the proper equipment. That's it. In religious terms, these are the priests and the relics. And to deface or distort either is not just an infraction, but a contamination. That's why athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs are, to continue the analogy, sacrilegious, and, no less, those who would maliciously alter the equipment. In hindsight, all of us made a terrible mistake in looking upon someone like Gaylord Perry - he, the pitcher infamous for loading up his deliveries with what we quaintly call foreign substances - as a sort of a sassy, picaresque figure who was merely tilting at the windmills of authority. Nonsense, Perry and his ilk didn't abuse baseballs. They abused baseball. Do not let that happen again. Therefore, likewise, even if it was no more than an illegal whiff of air that was willfully, with foresight, removed from the Patriot footballs, with Tom Brady's direction or mere acquiescence, he is guilty of purposely defiling the very artifacts which make the game fair and square. It's not enough to say, oh, everybody cheats a little, or, well, gee, there wasn't all that much difference in the balls, or you're picking on the poor Patriots. Games are played by natural flesh and blood people using authorized equipment. If either is illegally distorted, it's not just a crime against the game but a wound to the whole essence of sport.
INSKEEP: The flesh and blood of sports, brought to us each Wednesday by Frank Deford on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.