So, Tom Brady got away with cheating. At least, that’s how all but New England Patriots fans see things. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t need to have his personally selected footballs deflated in order to win games, we know that it was done, that he ordered it to be done, and that he destroyed evidence to cover it up.
In the grand scheme of things, Deflategate is meaningless. Not only did breaking the rules not affect the outcome of the game it was caught at, but football is mindless entertainment. I enjoy the game immensely. But what we have here is a minor offense that led to no real advantage in a meaningless game.
Or is there more to this?
Of course, there is more to this. Tom Brady is a high-profile person who is at the pinnacle of a sport that means far too much to far too many people. As far as football fans are concerned, he’s sinned. He’s violated the integrity of the game and raised questions about how ethical he’s been as a player leading up to getting caught.
Brady’s response to getting caught also shows that he doesn’t get the sin-and-forgiveness narrative of the Bible and its echo in American culture.
Sinning and getting caught is a repeated theme in the Scriptures.
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and are caught in their sin by God. Their reaction is to blame others instead of taking responsibility for themselves. (Sound familiar to the Brady story?) Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. And the serpent doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Sorry. Old joke. And a bad one. But because of their sin and lack of repentance, Adam and Eve are no longer allowed to live in the Garden. Their relationships with God and with one another are broken.
In 2 Samuel 11, King David takes Bathsheba as his paramour. She gets pregnant and David goes to elaborate measures to cover up his adultery, eventually ordering the death of one of his closest supporters, the mighty man Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. (OK. Brady didn’t have anyone killed, but he did destroy a cell phone to cover up his misdeeds.) Ultimately, David gets outed by the prophet Nathan, confesses his sin, and the child born of the pregnancy dies soon after birth. Because of his repentance, we not only have the great confessions of Psalms 32 and 51, but David doesn’t lose his kingship, ends up marrying Bathsheba, and their son Solomon becomes the next king of Israel.
In John 18:15-26, the disciple Peter denies that he knows Jesus just when Jesus needs his support the most. After boasting that he’d die before ever turning his back on Jesus, Peter went the way of fear instead of love, weeping bitterly because of his complete failure as a friend and follower of Jesus. So, in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Three times for the three denials. It’s a beautiful scene of restoration, where Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to replace his denials with declarations of love. (Alas, instead of replacing his lies with truth, Brady has stuck to them.)
There are more stories throughout the Scriptures, but those three will suffice. There is more to the biblical story of redemption than just personal sin and forgiveness, but acknowledgement and repentance of personal sin is central to all of redemption. Without it, there can be no reconciliation and restoration.
Adam and Eve must come out of hiding and face God. David must agree with God that he has sinned. Peter must replace his denials with I-love-yous.
If we don’t face our sins and come clean about them, we short-circuit the process of reconciliation and restoration. By staying in our sin, we retain and perpetuate the brokenness of it.
And that’s what Tom Brady has done. He has short-circuited forgiveness.
The American people love to forgive. We love being in the place of God and offering forgiveness to those who show remorse for their poor behavior. And we’ve got a whole host of celebrities who are constantly failing in flames to practice our forbearing forgiveness on. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons celebrities exist — we love to see them make such incredible messes of their lives so that the messes we make of our own don’t seem so bad and so that we can forgive them.
But we can only forgive the repentant. We can tolerate the unrepentant, but we can’t forgive them, because they don’t want forgiveness.
And that’s the problem with Deflategate. Brady has chosen the unrepentant path. And in a way, he’s won. He won’t be sitting out for the four games he was initially penalized for, because a judge wasn’t able to declare him guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. But that doesn’t mean that millions of sports fans haven’t found Brady guilty themselves because there is enough evidence to be confident of his guilt.
Brady may have won in the courtroom, but he lost in the living room.
And really, that’s where it counts for celebrities. Sure, he gets to play his four games, but his reputation is tarnished forever, because he refused to come clean with fans and therefore refused any forgiveness that would have been extended to him by them.
King David understood the nature of God and of forgiveness. Toward the end of his amazing psalm of confession, David wrote these words: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
David understood that true repentance calls forth forgiveness. A broken and contrite heart won’t be rejected by God. And not only is it essential in our relationship with God, but it is equally essential in our relationships with one another.
Thank you, Tom Brady, for that reminder. I hope you’ll learn the lesson you’re reminding us of.