If you have an opinion about Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, you likely fall into one of two camps: those who love them and those who hate them.
Admirers point to the fact that since Brady became quarterback in 2000 the Patriots have become one of the most successful teams in NFL history, winning 15 AFC East titles in 17 seasons since 2001 without a losing season in that period. These believers might also point out that under Brady and Coach Bill Belichick the team has gone to the Super Bowl eight times, winning five of them. These fans might highlight that Brady was himself once an underdog, being the 199th overall draft pick in 2000, adding to the myth that he and his team are a real “rags-to-riches” story, showcasing that talent, hard work and tireless pursuit of perfection can be obtained by only the rarest of the rare.
On the other hand, if you are a hater of the Patriots you point to other facts and likely highlight that the team has been shown to be dishonest, having cheated in “Deflategate,” when the Patriots used underinflated footballs to give themselves an advantage over other teams. They were fined $1 million by the NFL, and Brady was suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season. Or that they spied on other teams using hidden video cameras to decode the other team’s coaches as they called in plays during games.
Beyond these tarnishes, the response from Brady and his coaches to these indiscretions was less than satisfactory for many, suggesting that the team had both an air of arrogance and had a sense of entitlement, often resorting to the defense that “Everyone was doing it.” For the non-believers, these aspects and others suggest that the New England Patriots are greedy and willing to suspend sportsmanship, decorum and the law in order to win.
When people root for their team they are often cheering for the values that they hold important. If the only goal of playing a game is to win at any cost, then seeking advantage over your opponent by fudging the rules or disregarding them altogether is OK so long as you take home the ring.
Or you might be a fan of true underdogs — those teams or individuals that have pulled themselves up from challenging conditions. The Eagles’ backup quarterback, Nick Foles, is just such a story. Foles was thrust into the limelight this year when the Eagles’ starting QB was injured early in the season. Nearly ready to give up football this year, Foles went on to lead his team to victory, becoming the first QB in history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass.
Underdogs can quickly become pariahs if they become greedy, but an underdog that shifts the credit to teammates, coaches and their family and friends becomes even more legendary. These individuals who support others to reach their own moments of glory have a chance to become true sports heroes, not because they’ve won more games than someone else but because they are displaying the best characteristics of humanity.
By becoming examples of what it means to go beyond just “winning,” these rare individuals highlight admirable qualities such as honor, integrity and dignity.
And here’s the tie-in with the economy: You either believe that a market going up is the only indicator of success, or you believe that creating an economy that is balanced, healthy and provides others with opportunity is.
“Oh, but Tim, can’t we have both — a market that only goes up and does all these other things, too?” Perhaps, but at the moment we are in a strange phase of our history where “shareholder value” has morphed for many into an immoral mantra for those willing to sacrifice nearly any-thing (laws, people’s well-being, the environment, future generations, etc.) to get more profit into the hands of their investors. Beyond this odd interpretation of “winning” we have become a betting society that believes putting money into the “market” or starting a new company is akin to buying a lottery ticket: If we become rich from our investment decisions, then we made a “good” decision, with little or no regard for whether our actions lead to the betterment of the world or our people. But that’s not the way it has always been, and that’s not the way it has to be in the future.
We’ve seen many sports heroes, business leaders, artists, politicians and even chefs and vintners fall out of favor because they’ve recently been caught lying, cheating or bullying. For years these actions might have been viewed as OK so long as the person in question was either entertaining or provided “shareholder value.” But things are changing. And when the younger generation, who have been largely funding the recent economic growth with either their college debt of $1.3 trillion or their investing with abandon into the stock market, eventually finds that a market never just goes up and can be as volatile and unreliable as having gotten their college degrees, then they are likely to pull their funds out of investments faster than you can say, “This year’s NFL Super Bowl was the least-watched since 2009.”
Of course some economists are saying that everything is just fine. But if you listen closely to these cheerleaders they are basically saying that things are fine because the stock market is generally still going up, wages are increasing (albeit very slightly) and the economy is at near full employment. But if you scratch even the tiniest of veneer off their comments you find a bleak and troublesome underneath interior including a shift to bonds, a reduction in luxury-item spending (such as wine), most retail stores way down in sales, oil prices increasing, companies’ stock prices uncoupled from actual performance, fewer startups being formed, increased market volatility, the largest super-consumer generation passing away and being replaced by a much more fragile (economically speaking) and frugal cohort. There’s more: Inflation pressures are on the increase, as are rental prices; jobs continue being replaced by technology; and there is unbelievably high competition in what are increasingly low-barriers-to-enter industries like food, beer and wine, all exacerbated by a growing skepticism and mistrust between various groups and factions.
The sports teams that you hold dear are a reflection of your values, as my wife likes to tell me. For a long time, it seems we have been slipping toward a belief that winning at any cost is some-thing justified and even to be admired. But there are winds blowing that signal this belief is being questioned and that when an economic downturn next hits there may be no stopping a shift in the pendulum’s direction, leading to some serious alterations in the current landscape. If so, this might be a good moment to reassess what and whom you support and why. You might want to think again especially if it’s because they just can’t lose.