Their Cheatin’ Souls: Short Circuiting Ethics in America

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he had nothing to do with having air removed from game balls.

The NFL, following an investigation, says he did. It gave him a four game suspension, which he is appealing. That four game suspension could cost him somewhere between $2 million and $4 million of his $14 million 2015 salary. If he plays well with others, doesn’t get into any more trouble, and injuries and retirement don’t stop his career before he becomes 40 years old in 2017, he will earn $31 million for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

The NFL also fined the Patriots $1 million and required the team to forfeit its first round draft pick next year and 4th round pick the year after.
Of course, Brady also forfeited his cell phone. Before it and its 10,000 messages could be confiscated in the investigation, he destroyed it and got a new phone. Multi-millionaires can do that.

But, the issue here is not so much Brady or the Patriots. It’s an endemic problem of cheating.

In school, children spend more time learning how to avoid learning than they do learning subject matter. This can be by looking over someone else’s shoulder during a test or copying information from an online story for a paper.

By the time they get to college, their ways of evading knowledge becomes more refined. They can use their grants and loans to buy term papers written by others. On tests, they can flash hand signals to a buddy two rows away or secretly text each other for answers. They can wear baseball caps to hide their wandering eyes. They can even buy copies of the tests. Some professors give the same tests every year, and fraternities and sororities assist their brothers and sisters by having a current test bank of knowledge. There are hundreds of ways to cheat, and even the best professors don’t know all of them.

And then the students graduate, their resumés floating into corporate headquarters, like parade confetti. Most of these capsulized on paper lives are fluff and puff.

Although most workers don’t cheat, there’s enough who do.

Eleven teachers in Atlanta were convicted this year of racketeering for changing student answers on standardized tests to make overall scores higher. An Atlanta Journal–Constitution investigation reported about 180 teachers and administrators probably changed student scores; 35 of them were indicted, with 23 accepting plea bargains; 12 went to trial and only one of them was found not guilty.

The reason there was cheating by the adults, who probably didn’t “notice” when the children openly cheated, was money-based. Scores that flatlined each year or went down from the year before would have led to fewer funds. Higher scores led to increased budgets, which led to increased teacher merit pay. The superintendent of schools herself was accused of being the gang leader; her motivation may have been not just to make her district look good but to receive the bonuses for increased student performance. Unfortunately, teacher cheating isn’t confined to Atlanta, nor is cheating only a part of the educational system.

In factories, short cuts lead to products with defects. In some cases, corporate management knows there are defects but ignores the consequences, figuring that the cost of recalls and lawsuits is still less than the profits. In corporate language this is known as “mitigation.” It sounds so much better than “greed.”

Wall Street and financial institution greed and lies, combined with a serious lack of enforcement by government regulatory agencies, led to the nation’s great recession, which began the last couple of years of the Bush-Cheney administration. Trying to justify why they short-circuited ethics and the law, many of the guilty whined that they were in a high-pressure job to perform, that others did it, that they thought it was all part of the corporate culture; the whine that if they were ethical, they wouldn’t make as much money as expected, and probably wouldn’t be promoted or possibly fired for not meeting production goals.

Some politicians also cheat. In their case, the cheating could be by accepting gifts from lobbyists or making promises that no one believes will be kept. But, for politicians, the cheating is often to get campaign funds and benefits that might help grease a re-election, which will lead to an even further need to cross ethical lines.
You don’t have to be a corporate executive, go-go stock manipulator, politician, or even a student to cheat. Just fill out your yearly IRS 1040. Just as there are hundreds of ways students cheat, there are hundreds of ways taxpayers and corporations can cheat on taxes, with the average taxpayer believing it is perfectly acceptable to try to keep as much of every dollar earned as possible. Thus, fudging deductions and under-reporting income have become routine in many households. The IRS believes unreported income—which can be a few hundred dollars in restaurant tips or “under the table” job income to a few hundred thousand dollars stashed in a Cayman Islands bank—could be more than $4 billion a year.

Of course, cheating may be beneficial to others—if spouses didn’t cheat, the entire country music industry could fall.

Nevertheless, If Tom Brady did cheat in deflategate—and we’re not saying he did—he was just a part of a culture that is slowly losing its ethics and values in order to get results.

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Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. Dr. Brasch also investigates the history of energy policies in the U.S. and the relationships between the energy companies and politicians at local, state, and federal levels.

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