'Deflategate' and How Not to Scapegoat Tom Brady | Sojourners

'Deflategate' and How Not to Scapegoat Tom Brady

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
Tom Brady playing with the New England Patriots against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

I have so many reasons to hate Tom Brady.

As I said after he beat my beloved Seahawks in the Super Bowl, I have one primary reason for hating him. My wife thinks he’s hot.

Yup. I hate Tom Brady.

But there’s another reason to hate Tom Brady. “Deflategate” is back in the news. The controversy centers on Patriots’ footballs being deflated after they were approved by NFL officials prior to the AFC championship game in January.

Brady has asserted his innocence, but an independent investigation found that “it is more probable than not” he was aware that the locker room attendant and equipment manager altered the footballs.

So, not only does my wife think Tom Brady is hot, he’s also a cheater.

I hate him.

Of course, there is some equivocation in the report. “More probable than not” isn’t a definitive answer. It’s actually quite a disappointing answer to those of us who want to hate Brady with a perfect hatred. The report leaves room for doubt. “Maybe he’s innocent,” the report says. “We can’t be sure.”

But my hatred of Brady was recently put into perspective by New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden, who appeared yesterday on CBS This Morning. Even though it’s “more probable than not” that Brady is a dirty cheater, Rhoden reminded me that my hatred of Brady for cheating is an act of scapegoating. Charlie Rose asked Rhoden, “So, what’s the worst thing about this?” Rhoden’s response was illuminating:

The worst thing about this is that a guy who’s on top of the world, who seems to have everything – great family, a legacy, Super Bowl – still feels so much pressure and the need to cheat. That’s what blows everybody away. You didn’t have to do this. Why does someone who seems to have everything need to cheat? And that speaks to a large societal problem. Why do people on Wall Street, why do people who seem to have all the money, need to have even more money?

This isn’t just about Tom Brady. As much as I may hate the guy, he and I have some things in common. Rhoden is pointing to a crisis that all humans face. No matter how successful we appear, we all face the same existential lack of being. I can have all the success and money in the world, but I will still feel an emptiness in my soul.

Why do we experience this lack of being? Because we are constantly comparing ourselves with others. This comparison leads us to believe that we aren’t enough, that we lack something within ourselves, and so we try to obtain something that will fill the void within our soul.

But we don’t just want to obtain “something.” We want something that another person has, or wants to have. The competitive nature of this dynamic means that we easily fall into the trap of lying and cheating our way to the top.

You don’t have to be an NFL quarterback or on Wall Street to be infected by this competitive trap caused by our lack of being. I experience it, and from my years of ministry and counseling, I can tell you that nearly everyone is tempted to fill the void by cheating.

So, Tom Brady isn’t alone. My hatred of him actually comes from my own lack of being. As with all of my scapegoats, I put him down so that I can feel better about myself.

So, how do we stop scapegoating people like Tom Brady? As Rhoden states, Brady’s cheating “speaks to a large societal problem.” This is bigger than Brady. This is about me. This is about you. This is about a society obsessed with success and comparison with others, which leads to a sense that we lack something within ourselves.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the lack of being that we experience. The solution involves a complete change of mind – what the Jesus and the Hebrew prophets called repentance. Instead of relating to others by competitively grasping for success over and against them, we can learn to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”

That feels like a death. And it is a kind of death. It’s a death to the old competitive way of life that leads us over and against our scapegoats. But that death leads to new life. It’s a new life based on joy and love. It’s based on living in a community that isn’t over and against one another, but that actually celebrates and mourns with one another. It’s based on the realization that any of us can find ourselves in situations where we are tempted by societal standards of success to cheat, and so we begin to empathize with those who do. We begin to forgive. And our hearts begin to move away from hatred and toward love.

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

Image: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

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