Seven years after the New England Patriots were caught cheating by video taping other NFL teams’ game signals, football fans are wondering if the team intentionally deflated the footballs in the AFC championship game that qualified them for the Super Bowl they went on to win. The controversy brings into question a long-held idea that sports foster teambuilding, hard work, and integrity.
Sociologist Eric Carter tells the Huffington Post that, although sports teach characteristics valued in American society to youth across the country, as the stakes become higher, players are more likely to exhibit unethical behavior. The desire to win at all costs can stem from arrogance or self-importance, but cheating often has less to do with players’ self-perceptions and more to do with the behaviors of others. For instance, when players think other teams cheat, they are more likely to break rules to “stay competitive.” Additionally, coaches who frequently reward star players and emphasize winning over technique and skill create an environment that may push athletes to bend or break the rules.
“The NFL has a great responsibility to check itself,” Carter said. “It’s one of the most powerful entities in American society.” Because millions look to professional football players, NFL stars become role models for young athletes, he explains. If officials turn a blind eye to cheating in the big leagues, high school and college athletes may internalize a culture of dishonesty that runs contrary to the ideals Americans value and believe are built in sports.