Remember when the Houston Astros cheated their way into a World Series ring? Well, this season, the Astros and their fanbase used a brand-new, never-before-seen rallying cry: us against the world.
The National Football League’s (NFL) New England Patriots also cheated on a couple of their Super Bowl runs, most recently Deflategate. What happened after the Patriots were punished? Their incredibly humble (not) fanbase used the same motto of “us against the world,” and the pro-Patriots media company Barstool Sports mass-produced T-shirts with commissioner Roger Goodell’s face in clown makeup.
Even more recently, the Tennessee Titans, who had a COVID-19 outbreak but still tried to get around quarantining by practicing outside the facility, also adopted the motivational motto.
I understand why teams do this. It is a great way to motivate players. It is a new drive to prove the world wrong. Teams play harder knowing that everyone was simply out to get them. This “us against the world” idea makes these cheating, rule-bending teams the protagonists in their story.
Small issue: These teams cheated, so they deserve punishment. It is one thing for teams to adopt this mentality, but the problem becomes doubly annoying when their fans do too. I do not need to hear anyone gloat about their team winning by cheating. Yes, the team did win. But no, it was not fair, they did not deserve to win and you do not get any bragging rights.
Teams who adopt this victim complex after breaking rules try to justify it in one of two ways: “Everyone does it,” or “It really didn’t matter.” The first argument makes no sense. If everyone cheated, nobody would get singled out for cheating. The second argument is weak as well. Every professional sport is a game of inches, so to claim that cheating had no bearing on the outcome of the game is simply false.
There are a million ways to motivate a team. Using the “us against the world” mentality when cheating is incredibly lazy, and trying to justify it is everything against the spirit of competition.
Yes, quarterback Tom Brady has won six championships. At the same time, he did cheat in multiple Super Bowl runs. Therefore, no fan should brag about the times he cheated into winning. The Astros should have had their 2017 World Series title stripped; no Astros player or fan should try to act like they did not deserve punishment. The Titans had no right pretending that COVID-19 protocols are some existential power trying to prevent them from playing football. They quite literally put people’s lives at risk and deserved to be punished.
Teams that cheat should be treated with the same chastisement as individual athletes who cheated. If I recall correctly, cyclist Lance Armstrong effectively vanished from the public spotlight once his use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) became known. Former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire would probably be in the Hall of Fame had he not taken PEDs as well.
Let me end with a groundbreaking take: Cheating is bad. In all seriousness, teams should not exacerbate their position by using punishment for their behavior as a rallying cry because they deserved it and more.