Just What Patriots' Deflategate Scandal Needed: U.S. Congressmen

Government is once again threatening to use tax dollars to meddle in the affairs of private sports leagues.


||| Patriots/flicker

In case you thought the New England Patriots' "Deflategate" scandal couldn't get any more disarrayed, the folks who think they can fix every mess (and often end up making the problem worse) are considering jumping into the fray.

The Patriots are under fire after it was discovered that 11 of the 12 balls used in the first half of their conference championship game against the Indianapolis Colts were inflated to a level lower than National Football League (NFL) standards. Now, at least one member of the political class is asking the government to get involved.

In a posting on his website, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) used his bully pulpit to call for "decisive actions" to punish the Patriots, because, hey, why shouldn't a politician just decide to invoke government force and taxpayer dollars to investigate a game held by a private sports league?

Heller bases his reasoning on the fact that he is a senator from Nevada, where gambling is legal, and it is thus "imperative the integrity of the game never be questioned." This logic is flawed for two reasons:

  1. There is scant evidence that marginally deflated balls had any impact on on the outcome of the Patriots' blowout 45-7 victory over the Colts. If Heller truly wanted to look into goings on that could affect the outcome of games, there's a multitude of far more impactful things he could poke his nose into, including refereeing and steroid use. 
  2. Even if slightly deflated balls did in fact have a major impact on games, it should be the responsibility of the NFL, not American taxpayers, to enforce the rules. Having the government step in to regulate games is essentially offering a free service to a multibillion-dollar sports league that can easily afford to implement its own game integrity protocols.

This isn't the first time politicians have decided to use the authority and resources of the government to meddle in the affairs of private sports leagues. For more than a decade, federal prosecutors have partnered with Major League Baseball (MLB) to publicly shame players accused of using steroids. The most infamous example came in 2005, when Congress subpoenaed seven former MLB stars to testify before a panel on drug use in baseball.

The government has also stepped in to pressure college football to adopt a playoff format, ban mixed martial arts (MMA) in some states, and regulate the number of male and female sports teams colleges are allowed to field. On top of this, the FBI—rather than sports leagues themselves—annually dedicates a portion of its $8.3 billion budget to ensuring games aren't fixed by gamblers.

At least the U.S. doesn't have any ministries of sports, as European nations do. But don't think there isn't support for creating one. Bill Simmons, probably the most popular sports columnist in America, has often called for a presidentially appointed "Sports Czar," granted the authority to legislate issues affecting private sports leagues. Given how eager politicians already are to intervene in sports, it's not far-fetched to think that just such an unnecessary, intrusive position might be in our future.