Super Bowl XLIX (49) will be played this Sunday. Sadly, the anticipated matchup between the AFC champion New England Patriots and NFC champion Seattle Seahawks has already had the wind knocked out of its sails — or, in this case, the air out of its footballs.
As anyone with a pulse could tell you, a funny thing happened to the Patriots on their way to winning the AFC championship. Eleven of the team’s 12 game balls were later revealed to have been deflated. Their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, who were shellacked by a score of 45-7, had 12 perfectly inflated game balls.
This eyebrow-raising brouhaha shall forever be known by the clichemeisters as “Deflategate.”
The Patriots, including coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady, have pleaded ignorance. Sports writers, football fans and casual viewers have wide-ranging (and occasionally unprintable) opinions. The National Football League is investigating the matter, and should be finished later this week.
But there now seems to be some murky interest in Deflategate from another interested party — make that two parties.
Last week, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said in a statement, “I am seeking decisive actions ensuring all teams are playing according to the rules.” He called on the NFL to “restore the credibility of the game” by working with the NFL Players Association to get to the bottom of this.
Not to be outdone, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid reportedly said, “I can’t believe the National Football League, with the billions of dollars it makes, couldn’t at least determine how much air should be in a football.”
It’s not that Messrs. Heller and Reid are wrong. They’re not. What is wrong, however, is that these politicians are trying to get involved in something that doesn’t concern them.
The NFL is a privately owned organization. It has no direct ties to Congress or the White House. (President Obama is also likely chewing at the bit, if his comments about the Washington Redskins’ nickname are any indication.) Hence, this is an internal matter — and the league must be allowed to make its own decision whether the Patriots are guilty of deflating their footballs and if so, determine the severity of the penalty.
Certainly, Messrs. Reid and Heller are allowed to express their own opinions about Deflategate. Everyone has that right in the United States. At the same time, based on what we’ve seen in past controversies involving sports leagues, the temptation for Congress to get involved won’t soon escape into thin air.
Pro and amateur sports both have a long and storied association with politicians, political parties and the courts.
Here are a few notable examples. President Theodore R. Roosevelt helped save college football in the early 1900s by suggesting reforms to the rules to prevent fatalities. The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous 1922 decision that Major League Baseball was not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act changed the sport forever. The 1966 AFL-NFL merger required Congress’ approval to prevent antitrust legislation from kicking in. Congress passed Title IX in 1972 to create gender equality in sports. In 2005, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed several former baseball stars, including Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, to discuss steroid use and drug policy.
Some of these individual decisions were good. Many of these interventions were bad.
From my perspective, it’s always best to keep Congress out of the equation for the good of the sports industry. There may be instances where Congress and the courts need to get involved in a particular situation. These moments should be the exception and not the rule.
Some politicians, unfortunately, believe the history of American sport and government is indelibly tied. Hence, they perceive that they have the right to make suggestions, comments and take direct action against sports leagues, teams and owners for the good of the nation.
That’s not the case, however.
The voters didn’t send them to Washington to interfere in the day-to-day operations of a sports league — or the strange and potentially troubling case of Deflategate. It’s not up to Congress to get involved or even give its two cents about this matter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners.
Let the NFL take care of its own housekeeping matters. There will be plenty of time for all of us to act as judge, jury and executioner of our own opinions. Who knows, the accumulation of hot air might even help reinflate those mishandled footballs.
• Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.